Since Mahindra United got disbanded Mumbai has failed to have a champion club. The I-League that kicks off this weekend will feature three Mumbai based clubs – Air India, Mumbai FC and ONGC. TheHardTackle takes a look at the three clubs beginning with Air-India and ponders if there will be any change in the fortune of Mumbai clubs this season.
Air India – A New Look Team
Air India under Santosh Kashyap were a revolution last season. With lots of youngsters in team Air India performed admirably well, ending I league campaign in the mid-table. From last season things have changed drastically as talismanic coach Santosh Kashyap was roped by Kolkata giant Mohun Bagan. Apart from that Air India has failed to retain the core of the team and several players have left in pursuit of greener pasture. Striker Manandeep has joined the Red and Golden brigade while his strike partner Sandesh Gadkari along with defender Colin Abranches have joined Salgaocar.
New coach and Air India FC legend Godfrey Pereira will look to prove his worth with limited resources available to him. But surprisingly for many, Air India under their new coach had a decent season till now. Godfrey Pereira was able to win Durand cup beating ambitious Dodsal FC Mumbai, Air India’s first major title in many years. Apart from lifting Durand cup, Air India have shown their hunger to succeed by beating Mohun Bagan despite being a man down in group match of Federation Cup 2012.
Goalkeepers: Harshad Meher, Jagroop Singh, Sukhwinder Singh.
Air India has weakened after their regular goal keeper Pawan Kumar switched sides to Salgaocar FC. Pawan Kumar was one of the key players for Air India last season and his brilliance under the posts will be missed. Apart from Kumar, second choice goalkeeper Arup Debnath also has left the club. Godfrey Pereira will have high expectation from Sukhwinder Singh with Jagroop Singh being another option. Former junior International will be looking to use this opportunity to impress some of the bigger clubs in the country.
Defenders: John Charles Dias, Baldeep Singh, Gagandeep Singh, Ramandeep Singh, Lamina Tamba, Santosh Koli, Nikunj Khandelwal, Wilfred Anthony, Pratik Chaudhari.
Air India has lost a number of players in defense. Senegalese player and captain Lamina Tamba and John Dias will have to bring their experience in the center of defense as most of the colleagues lack experience in top level. Ramandeep and Gangandeep are likely to be right and left of the defense. Pratik Chaudhari has been impressive as wing back in the recent Durand Cup and has earned a call-up to the national team with his impressive performances.
Midfielder; Micky Fernandes, Ong Teshring Lepcha, Souvik Chakraborty, Pradeep Mohanraj, Johny Chand Singh, Prakash Thorat, Alshaymal, Rahul Bheke, Sailesh Jhadav, Harold Fernandes, Allan Dias, Vijay Shetty, Soccer Velho, Hrigsolal Thomte.
Air India has a good mixture of youth and experience in midfield. The signings of Micky, Lepcha and Souvik have brought the stability in midfield. Micky will be happy to be part of Air India after warming the benches of I league champions Dempo for last 2 years. He will be the deep lying playmaker for the team and his accurate passing and creativity will be vital in the heart of mid field. Youngster Souvik has immense talent and will have a more attacking role to play.
All eyes will be on the comeback man Lepcha, the former u-19 team captain who has come back after sitting out for almost a year due to a ligament tear in the right knee. After having struggled to find a club, Lepcha now seems to have settled at Air-India. He can play as a winger and has shown his class in the Durand cup with darting runs in right flank. He also scored 2 goals in the tournament.
Pradeep Mohanraj, Prakash Thorat, Johny Chand Singh and Soccer who are good backup to have in the team. Infact Pradeep Mohraj has earned a place in the the probable squad annpunced for the Singapore friendly
Strikers; Henry Ezeh, Elijah junior, Branco Cardozo, Donald Rocha, Abhishek Ambekar
It is very clear that Air India will miss services of Manandeep Singh but they will be depending on Henry Ezeh and Elijah Junior. The Nigerians have shown what they can do in the recent Federation Cup when both of them were able to score goals against Mohan Bagan. It will be interesting to see Branco Cardozo, the highly talented striker has not done justice to his talent yet thanks to injuries.
The Final Word
Air India will look to repeat last year’s performance in I-league. They have the talent in the team and a coach who has impressed till now. Players such as John Dias, Micky Fernandes, Souvik Chakraborty, Lepcha, Cardozo and Elijah junior will be looking to prove a point. Their base expectation is likely to avoid relegation but they can sneak into the top-10 once again.
Written by Guest Author Ashlesh Ajgaonkar. Follow the Author on Twitter