Now that the Indian Super League (ISL) season has ended, attention has turned towards the national team that is poised to assemble in Dubai later this month. The team will compete in two friendlies against Oman and hosts United Arab Emirates (UAE) on March 25 and 29 respectively. Among the 27-member squad selected for the preparatory camp are six players from the Hyderabad FC squad that narrowly missed out on a playoff spot in the top-flight season.
Defenders Chinglensana Singh and Akash Mishra, midfielders Halicharan Narzary and Mohammad Yasir, and forwards Liston Colaco and Hitesh Sharma have made the cut for the touring party. The other key inclusions are FC Goa forward Ishan Pandita and champions Mumbai City FC’s title-winning goalscorer Bipin Singh.
6⃣ HFC players to travel to Dubai as part of the 27-man 🇮🇳 squad, for the international friendlies against Oman & UAE!
— Hyderabad FC (@HydFCOfficial) March 14, 2021
Long-time captain Sunil Chhetri will miss the tour as he recently tested positive for COVID-19.
The inclusion of numerous players from the Hyderabad-franchise, that finished fifth in the 11-team league, is not entirely surprising. National coach Igor Stimac had earlier praised the team management’s decision for opting to boost young domestic talent in the squad by playing just three of the five allotted foreign players.
“I felt sorry at the end for Manuel ‘Manolo’ Marquez (former Hyderabad FC coach) and his boys who worked very hard, who played most of the games with only three foreign players on the pitch and in the starting line-up. (That) proved and showed us that we are right in saying that Indian and home grown players deserve more chances and more space for their development,” the Croatian had said in an interview with the ISL website.
The reason Hyderabad FC fielded young Indian talent can be traced back to the end of last year.
A poor showing in their first season of the ISL, where they could muster no more than two wins, set in motion a mission to rebuild the team. It involved hiring Albert Roca, the architect of Bengaluru FC’s earlier success in the I-League and ISL. The association didn’t last long as Roca was to become FC Barcelona’s fitness coach. However, it did set the ball rolling for Hyderabad tapping into the already existing structure of Indian football’s developmental system.
Take the case of Akash Mishra, who was recruited from the Indian Arrows I-League outfit ahead of the 2020-21 season. The 19-year-old Balrampur-native is a product of the U-Dream Football Academy and was part of a group of 17 players who were sent to German club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim.
“We targeted who we felt were the three most talented Indian Arrows boys. We had the left-back position in mind and Akash was somebody we looked at as the perfect catch,” Hyderabad FC Director of Football Sujay Sharma explains to The Indian Express.
“We looked at his stats, at his videos and gathered background knowledge. I had already gone and seen him earlier for a few games with the Arrows. We also knew of Mishra’s time with the U-Dream Academy when he went to Hoffenheim. We knew that if we invested in him and backed him, he could definitely compete with our existing left-back.”
What was more important than signing these young talented players was to give them playing time. That’s where Marquez’s experience of working with younger players in the lower Spanish leagues came handy.
“I think it’s really about the coach giving young players the right motivation and confidence going in. Even if the young players made mistakes, Manolo stood by them,” says team owner Varun Tripuraneni.
“Hitesh for example, hadn’t played too much football in the past one to two seasons. He was someone who really impressed in the pre-season and ended up becoming one of the key players for Manolo this season.”