The 2016 edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) was memorable for both Northeast United FC and Delhi Dynamos for the same reason despite not reaching the summit clash. The league finishes attained by the pair was their best since the inception of the ISL.
While there was no silverware for either outfit at the end of the season, for Delhi it represented a slight improvement on their previous best finish of fourth in the standings. The North-East club, on the other hand, maintained their fifth-place finish from 2015, a season which had been a stark improvement on their dismal eighth place in the inaugural edition.
There might have been no cause for celebrations for either side but it represented a foundation that could have spurred future success. As the saying goes, continuity breeds success. That John Gregory’s Chennaiyin FC who currently top the table, retained the most number of senior players (three) before the start of the season, underlines this mantra.
While the John Abraham-owned outfit did retain two players from the 2016 edition, the Dynamos opted to go in a completely new direction and re-start with a clean slate. They might well be ruing that fact given that they currently lie at the bottom of the ISL standings with only three points from their six games so far. Joao Carlos de Deus’ NorthEast United have been marginally less worse than Delhi, collecting four points in the same amount of matches to occupy the position above them.
Delhi’s problems lie not just in their defence, which is the worst in the league by some distance but also in attack, where they have scored just five goals. Three of them came in their only win in the campaign so far, in their opening match against FC Pune City. Since then, the Miguel Angel Portugal-led side has endured a torrid run of five consecutive defeats.
On the other hand, FC Pune City has gone from strength to strength since that defeat to Delhi. Ranko Popovic’s men currently lie in fourth position in the league, just one point behind the leaders. The capital based side and NorthEast United need only to look at Pune to see what they are missing. Or to, in fact, rue what they have let go.
Marcelinho Lite Pereira, the Brazilian attacker who won the Golden Boot last season with Delhi, now plies his trade for the Maharashtra-based club. He has two goals and four assists to his name already with Pune this season, forming a lethal combination with Uruguayan striker Emiliano Alfaro who has banged in five goals in seven matches.
Alfaro had struck the same amount of goals for the NorthEast last season. In a league where consistent goal-scorers have been rare to come by and are almost considered something sacred, Dynamos’ decision to not retain a man who had scored 10 goals in 2016 is bordering on sacrilege.
One feels retaining a proven goal-scorer like the Uruguayan should have been the top priority for Highlanders.
Of the current players in the league, only two players have scored more goals than Marcelinho and Alfaro. One is Chennaiyin’s Jeje Lalpekhua and the other is Kerala Blasters’ Iain Hume. That in itself shows the premium proven goal-scorers in the league command.
Deus’ side’ have scored only two goals in their disappointing campaign so far, both have them have come somewhat fittingly, in their sole win against the Dynamos. Their Brazilian striker Danilo Lopes Cezario has shown flashes of brilliance but the output has simply not been enough.
Another player that Delhi let go and now plies his trade for Pune is Spanish midfielder Marcos Tebar. The Spaniard was a rock at the base of the Dynamos’ midfield in 2016 and he has continued doing that for Popovic’s side, forming a promising partnership with Adil Khan.
Sitting just ahead of the back four, the Real Madrid product has been cleaning up opposition attacks and initiating counter-attacks with aplomb this season. For a Delhi side struggling to find the correct balance between attack and defence, Tebar could have been the perfect foil.
In Paulinho Diaz, Portugal has a very good midfielder in his hands. But his two-man partnership with young Vinit Rai in Delhi’s midfield has failed to provide the necessary defensive screen a side which likes to play on the front-foot seeks.
Obviously, retaining Marcelinho, Marcos Tebar ( for Delhi Dynamos) and Emiliano Alfaro ((for NorthEast United) would have been costly with the players asking for vastly improved contracts but one feels it would have been worth the money spent if the two frnachises had decided to do so.
While hindsight is always a wonderful thing, the Dynamos and the Highlanders are now paying the price of their own undoing and can have little to complain about seeing the riches they have seemingly thrown away.