I-League 2nd Division: Can Real Kashmir do a Leicester City?
By Asif M.D Hajra
Srinagar, May 22:Remember Leicester City FC of 2015-16 season? Of course, 2015-16 EPL champions. The team that bankrupted many bookies, baffled football analysts, shockingly exceeded its fans expectations and negated all simulation models used for predicting the winners. And a season before? Leicester City FC had finished 14th in the English Premier League despite the club being marooned at the bottom of the table for four-and-a-half months between late November and mid-April, finally managing to put together a run of seven wins from their last nine fixtures to survive comfortably.
2015-16 Leicester City FC team was not ordinary. It possessed Robert Huth and Wes Morgan as iron walls of defence with the intense pressing and long distance passing of Danny Drinkwater and N’Golo Kante in the mid-field, and the rapid counter-attacking of Riyad Mehrez and Jamie Vardy.
It was not an individual factor like Vardy’s or Meherez’s or Huth’s or Raneiri’s for that matter. Instead, it was all about the cohesiveness – how the team combined together to lift the spirit of the team to the highest level.
And here, we have a simulation of Leicester City FC in the making. It is Real Kashmir FC – all set to play I-league (2nd Division) final round, following the completion of all the Preliminary Round matches at the 2017/18 Hero 2nd Division League.
The final round is round-robin league in which four teams will battle it out for the coveted Hero I-League berth. The final round is set to commence at FSV Arena in Bangalore from May 24, 2018 and the opener will be played between Ozone FC and Real Kashmir FC.
In the preliminary round, Real Kashmir FC emerged the table toppers in Group A accumulating a total of 22 points in 10 games win 6 wins and 4 draws. Interestingly, Real Kashmir FC remained unbeaten during the whole round conceding only 8 goals against 15 goals scored by them, thus managing a healthy goal difference of 7 goals.
As against this, Lonestar Kashmir FC – another I-league team from the state – ended the preliminary round at the bottom of the table aggregating meagre 2 points from 9 games with 7 loses and 2 draws. Moreover, Lonestar Kashmir FC conceded 18 goals – the highest by any side in A group – during the preliminary round. Incidentally, Lonestar Kashmir FC had emerged as the Runner-up in I-league (2nd Division) season 2015 with aggregate 27 points losing only to Aizwal FC with aggregate 34 points.
In group B, Kerala Blasters FC (reserves) emerged as the group leaders with a total of 21 points in 10 games. The team has won 7 games and lost 3 during the preliminary round with a net goal difference of 8 goals. However, Group B witnessed some drama on the final day as FC Kerala who led the group for most of the preliminary round lost 2-4 against Fateh Hyderabad which saw Ozone FC making it to the final round with 19 points despite finishing behind Kerala Blasters reserves.
In group C, Manipur-based TRAU (Tiddim Road Athletic Union) FC emerged as the group leaders in the preliminary round with a total of 23 points in 10 games, winning 7, drawing 2 and losing 1 game. Debutants TRAU FC finished the preliminary round with the proven highest goal scoring ability scoring a total of 26 goals (average 2.6 goals per game) and also moved to the next final round with the highest goal difference of 17 goals.
The 4th team – Delhi-based Hindustan FC sneaked into the final round as the best second-placed team from Group A with 20 points. The team like Real Kashmir FC remained unbeaten throughout the preliminary round with 5 wins and 5 draws in 10 games.
This season’s Real Kashmir FC is different. Other than Danish who has played for the club last season, it is a fully refurbished team. This Real Kashmir FC has a solid defence line in local boy Hammad, Nigerian footballer Loveday, Abhash Thapa and Khalid Khan. Its mid-field is decorated by the flamboyant Danish, veteran Shahnawaz and lanky Bernard, who are skilled enough to create lots of chances for Ifham and Nadong for finishing touches.
While Hammad is a match to Huth and Hummel, Bernard can even beat Ramos on headers. And Danish – he has no match in the state. Danish has the knack to play alongside Ishfaq and Wadoo the next season. Their goal post is protected by the experienced Sukhwinder who is well-supported by Ujawar and Shabir.
Real Kashmir FC’s head coach David Robertson – former Scottish international having represented his country in UEFA Champions League – is associated with the team since 2016.
As a player, David has played for Scottish premier league club – Glaslow Rangers, and helped it win six consecutive Scottish Premier Division titles during his playing days from 1992-1997. He has also played in the famous English Premier League with Leeds United FC in the season 1997-98.
Regarding his coaching experience, David has UEFA Pro License with coaching experience of around eighteen years, having coached the clubs like Leeds United (Youth – 1999), Montrose FC (Scotland), Sereno FC (USA) and Phoenix FC (USA). In the coaching department, David is assisted by UEFA ‘B’ coaching license holder Jimmy Lindsay –former Scottish international having played for Motherwell FC, another Premier Division Scottish club. Jimmy has been working on youth football for 40 years now and before joining Real Kashmir FC, he was working with Raiph Rovers FC in Scotland.
Coaching Real Kashmir FC for the second consecutive season for I-league (2nd Division), David sees this season’s team as completely different from the one which played in the I-league last year.
According to David, before inception of I-league last season, he got only 10 days to prepare before the start.
Moreover, he did not get the chance to do some scouting exercise to pick and choose his team. This I-league season, the team has been together for 4 months before start of this prestigious tournament and in the meanwhile, it got fair chance to participate in many local tournaments.
On the current team composition, David said, “This year I got a chance to travel, contact agents and do some trials to pick up players which fit my scheme of things. This Real Kashmir FC has a few talented lads from Kashmir including Danish and Hammad, a few African professional footballers including Loveday and Bernard, others who we picked from different states/clubs like Mani, Ritwick Das and others, all of whom have gelled well and have come up as a good team.
Among all, Ritwick has been a revelation who can play at almost all positions a coach can imagine. The boy holds tremendous potential and has a great future ahead. Besides, 6 feet 5 inch Bernard has always been a threat to the opponents and his height has been quite advantageous to the team.”
Praising all the team members, management and last but not the least – the team owner – Shamim Meraj – David is quite confident that Real Kashmir FC has it all that make a winner. Apart from enjoying the freedom from the team owner – Shamim, David has also found a good coaching partner in Jimmy Lindsay – who being a fellow countryman – complements David’s Scottish style of football.
Without losing a single game in the whole preliminary round, all the players of Real Kashmir FC are Gung-ho to make it happen – emerge as the winners. David has prepared his team well to go and make it tough for the opponents to beat them. And above all, the team aspires to repay its owners for the confidence they have exhibited in the team. While Hammad does not want to repeat the mistake of being over-confident as the team did during it 3-3 draw with Hindustan FC, Danish is focused to fight every game as a warrior.
FSV Arena in Bangalore – an artificial pitch (Astroturf), is of the same size as TRC Astroturf in Srinagar. Although the climate is quite warm, experience of regularly practicing on TRC Astroturf would be advantageous to the team. More than anything else, it will be an exhibition of collective ambition of the team – to move the way Leicester City FC did!