Return of the old guard at ISL

ISL Media Release

Sergio Lobera, who returns to India at the helm of Odisha FC, is admittedly impressed with the project at the club and is looking forward to rewriting history with the Juggernauts after two exceedingly successful spells as FC Goa and Mumbai City FC previously. “Odisha, I think, is a club that is growing every day. I am very happy to be a part of this family. I am here to try to help. The coach is one piece more in this project to try to help the club. When I had a meeting with the owners, I felt like this is a place where I want to work. Hopefully we can grow more and achieve success in both the short and the long term,” the Spaniard said.

Well, Lobera is not the only ex-ISL winner coming back to the league after a brief while away. Scottish tactician Owen Coyle, who handsomely cruised the Jamshedpur FC ship to the ISL League Winners Shield in 2021/22, is now at where it all began for him in India. Coyle has been tasked with turning around Chennaiyin FC’s fortunes this season. He has not been averse to saving a sinking ship as the perfect testament to that was in 2019/20 when he took over the reins of the Marina Machans midway through the campaign and spearheaded them to the final in an incredible fashion. Coyle is hoping to repeat the same and go one step ahead this time around. “Chennaiyin is always a special feeling because there are such good people. We may not be the biggest club in the league but we sure can still be the best. To do that we need a number of things – a lot of things, but the good thing is we know how to get up, and we know how to be champions,” he remarked.

However, a comeback that everyone will be keeping close tabs on will be that of Carles Cuadrat. The Spanish head coach is heading East Bengal FC this season but he first shot into prominence in Indian football with his celebrated stint at Bengaluru FC. Cuadrat had pioneered them to their maiden ISL victory in 2018/19 and is hopeful of repeating those heroics with the Red and Gold Brigade this year.

“It will be an interesting ISL because we will meet a lot of coaches who have been champions in india, be it the champions of the ISL, Federation Cup, Super Cup etc. They already know how to be competitive in that environment, so,that’s great for ISL to have so many champion coaches in the competition” Cuadrat looked at the season ahead. “We’ve been in the ISL for three seasons and things haven’t gone well for the club. We’re here to try to change the dynamics. We have a lot of supporters and a huge legacy to this club. The supporters are having bad times in the last three seasons so it’s hard work for us to improve the performance and to try to get the positive results for the supporters,” he added, signalling a positive reversal of form for the club.

New beginnings

Amidst all the returns, the standout team to watch out for this season will arguably be Punjab FC, who scripted history by becoming the first-ever club to secure a promotion to the ISL by winning the I-League last year. Head coach Staikos Vergetis is confident of his prospects in ISL 2023/24 considering his team’s activities in the summer transfer window.

“We are very happy that we are the team that for the first time in the history of Indian football has been promoted to the ISL. Looking back in the last season, I had a lot of beautiful moments to remember. It was a tough season for us, it wasn’t easy,” Vergatis reflected on his team’s journey so far. He added, “I think we did the correct moments during the summer. We kept 14 players from the successful side this year. Because it is one thing is to be family and to stay together. But in football you cannot keep everyone of them. You have to review the team to improve the quality in the roster. That’s why, apart from these 14 players, we took some talented, very good and experienced foreigners; some very good players from India who we saw are very good when they played in other clubs. We have a team with very good youngster players in Indian football, to whom you hope to help them to be India professional football players in the upcoming years.”

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