The team from the capital had a torrid start to the inaugural edition of the Hero Indian Super League, but managed to climb out of last place at the end of Round 9, and finish a face-saving 5th, narrowly missing out on qualification to the semi-final stage.

The Samir Manchanda owned franchise roped in Dutch manager Harm Van Veldhoven, who brought with him his former players Mads Junker and Morten Skuobo. Delhi spent the least out of 8 teams in the Indian players’ draft, but used the extra cash to attract higher profile foreign players. Top signings included Hans Mulder, Kristof van Hout and Francis Fernandes. The biggest name of them all, though, was Alessandro del Piero. The Italian legend, the costliest player in the league, became the face of the team as well as the ISL in advertisements, banners andAi??merchandise.

The city was abuzz and excitement among football fans was unrivaled when FC Pune City visited the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium for the first game of the season. Despite dominating, the Dynamos could not break the deadlock and the game ended 0-0. Fans had to wait till the third game to see their team win- Chennaiyin were battered 4-1, with Brazilian attacker Gustavo dos Santos scoring a wonder goal.

However, Delhi took a nose-dive straight to the bottom of the table after that. Nothing seemed to be working for the Dynamos. The strikers never looked like scoring, the midfield was overrun, and the defence was leaking at least a goal a game. On top of that, del Piero, despite being 40 years old, was nowhere near the levels expected from a player with over 300 career goals.

The Oranje Army collected just 3 points from a possible 18, including a confidence-shattering 1-4 defeat to FC Goa at home. Drastic changes wereAi??needed if they were to salvage the season with 5 games remaining.

The 10th game of the season against NorthEast United was the turning point. The decision to play a 4-3-3 false-9 system by van Veldhoven brought the best out of the team. Dos Santos and Francis Fernandes, previously used as a super-subs, were given the limelight as del Piero dropped to the bench. The Brazilian singlehandedly brought Delhi only their 2nd win of the season, along with a renewed belief that qualification was possible.

The Dynamos went on a rampage up till the final game of the season against Chennaiyin, collecting 10 points from 12. Dos Santos and Mulder were not at their best in Chennai, where only a win would have put Delhi through. After falling behind 2-0 in the first half, Alessandro del Piero finally came good, scoring a brilliant freekick and inspiring the team to a 2-2 draw after coming off the bench.
It was perhaps fitting, seeing what a bitter-sweet season it has been for Delhi, that the former Juventus captain finally showed his class despite his team missing out on qualification.

Best Player- Hans Mulder

From the first game till the last, the Dutchman was the heart and soul of the Dynamos. Playing as a box-to-box midfielder, Mulder covered every blade of grass on the pitch, winning the ball back, creating chances and scoring 3 very important goals in the final 5 matches. He featured in all but one fixture for Delhi and was the driving force in the centre of the pitch. His linkup play with Bruno Arias and Gustavo dos Santos was commendable, and his leadership shone through. He even won the captain’s armband mid-season.

Worst Player- Alessandro del Piero

In all honesty, the Italian legend looked very off-colour in the first few matches. For all his fancy back heels and quick footwork, he never looked an attacking threat. His passes did not split defences, he got outpaced easily, his free kicks never made it past the wall and his lack of defensive work rate was a liability. The team was visibly slowed down by him and only got a good streak of results in his absence.
It was still a heart warming moment for any football fan to see del Piero perform well and score against Chennaiyin as his Indian adventure drew to a close.

Other Notable Players

Gustavo dos Santos- The previously unknown Brazilian lit up the ISL with amazing displays of skill, shooting and speed. His individual ability and confidence won hearts all over India. With del Piero out of favour, the onus was on him to lead the forward line. Every goal he scored was outrageous, but very important for the Dynamos to turn their season around. He ended up as Delhi’s top scorer with 5 goals and 2 assists.

Kristof Van Hout- The tallest footballer in the world was ever present and saved his defenders’ blushes on countless occasions. With an impressive 82% shots saved percentage, the Belgian was the reason why the score line remained low despite some atrocious defensive displays early on in the season. His tall frame rising head and shoulders above everybody to collect crosses from the air boosted the confidence of all his comrades.

Francis Fernandes- The tactical masterstroke that salvaged Delhi’s season- playing a 4-3-3 and moving Francis to the false-9 position. The Goan winger’s performances on the flanks were mediocre at best. But a change in position meant a change in fortune- Francis managed 3 assists in as many games and impressed with his movement and tactical understanding.

Most Memorable Match- Delhi Dynamos 4 – 1 Mumbai City FC

Peter Reid’s Mumbai could not handle the Dynamos’ new formation in what was dubbed as the ‘Metros Derby’. The floodgates were opened by a typical driving run into the box by the captain, Mulder. Dos Santos and Junker, playing as wide forwards, wreaked havoc and got a goal apiece. 20 year old substitute Manish Bhargav rounded off an amazing night for Delhi after Mumbai pulled one back. What set this match apart from the rest was how perfectly van Veldhoven’s system worked, leaving one of the more celebrated managers of the league clueless.

Most Disappointing Match- Delhi Dynamos 1 – 4 FC Goa

The defeat to then last placed FC Goa was as low as it got for Delhi. Terrible defending on set pieces allowed Younes Bengelloun to score twice, with Robert Pires and Tolgay Ozbay also getting on the score sheet. The game was over by the 60th minute, but the worst part was that nobody apart from dos Santos seemed to even get near the goal despite having home advantage.

Goal of the Season- Gustavo dos Santos vs. Chennaiyin

The Brazilian picks the ball up near the half line in the 90th minute with the team 3-1 up, avoids a challenge and skips to the left flank, seeming to be heading into no-man’s-land. Two players approach him but he leaves them for dead, pulling off an audacious trick to nutmeg one and accelerate past the other as he stands watching. As the defenders anticipate a through ball, dos Santos only has one thing in his mind. He runs straight through the middle, beating another player for pace before unleashing into the corner of the net as the keeper stands his ground, shell-shocked.

*****

Written by Guest Author Chaitanya Joshi

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