Recently, Manolo Marquez, the former Hyderabad FC, and the current FC Goa gaffer, remarked that the 2023-24 season of the Indian Super League is going to be the hardest one yet. Indeed, on paper, it certainly seems so, and what will the audience get to cherish on display is yet to be seen.
The 2023-24 season of the Indian Super League will see seven title-winning coaches contesting for the AFC Cup Group Stage spot. This includes the Durand Cup title, the ISL Shield, the ISL title, and the Super Cup title.
So can we anticipate a season worth the tenth edition?
The Return of Sergio Lobera
Looking ahead to the 2023-24 Indian Super League season, Odisha FC has made some big moves in the off-season. First, they secured the services of Sergio Lobera, arguably the most successful coach in the league’s history, with an impressive win percentage of 55.76% in his time with FC Goa and Mumbai City FC combined. With Lobera at the helm, FC Goa finished 3rd, 2nd, and 1st in the league stages in succession and qualified for the AFC Champions League, whilst Mumbai City FC also qualified for the AFC Champions League and won the ISL title under Sergio.
Lobera’s Points Per Match (PPM) ratio in the Indian Super League is a staggering 1.94, making him one of the most successful coaches in the league’s history. Odisha FC has also made some significant signings, including Ahmed Jahouh and Mourtada Fall, two players who were instrumental in Lobera’s success. Both Jahouh and Fall are ISL legends, and any team acquiring their services is in for a treat. Additionally, Lenny Rodrigues, Amrinder Singh, and Amey Ranawade have all played under Lobera before, bringing valuable experience and familiarity to the team.
It’s clear that Odisha FC means business this season, aiming for nothing less than the league premier’s spot. With Lobera and his skilful roster, the team has the potential to make a serious run at the title. Odisha FC’s latest acquisition, Roy Krishna, also speaks volumes about their intentions this season. The strides that the club will make this season will be truly entertaining, with the Juggernauts looking at an exciting season ahead with a potential for great success.
One for the ISL History Books, Des Buckingham
The English coach is also nothing short of impressive when it comes to the records. The Mumbai City fans and also the Indian footballing fraternity will proudly look at Mumbai as a team that gave a terrific fight at the AFC Champions League last time around. Moreover, yet another stint at the continental level awaits the club.
Des Buckingham also carries an outstanding win percentage of 55.93% with Mumbai City FC, with a PPM ratio of 1.78. Nobody will ever forget his gobsmacking unbeaten run at Mumbai City in the 2022-23 season of the ISL. The dream run will live on the Islanders’ minds for a long, long time, and it will be upon Des Buckingham to put on an even better show this upcoming season after having lost a few key players to Odisha FC and also being the successor to Sergio Lobera in the 2021-22 season.
Hot take – Lobera v/s Buckingham will be a true spectacle to look forward to
Following Ahmed Jahouh’s and Mourtada Fall’s departure, the Islanders have brought in a Dutch pivot, Yoell van Nieff, and the Spanish ISL veteran, Tiri, to fill the shoes of the formers, respectively. They have also brought in the likes of Akash Mishra, followed by extensions of several other key players. This begs the question, can Buckingham live up to the expectations he has fashioned for himself, or will he be his own worst enemy? The answer awaits.
Owen Coyle and Chennaiyin, the Marina Machans’ Lovable Fairy Tale
Nobody needs to be reminded of how great a season Chennaiyin FC had in the 2019-20 ISL edition, when Owen Coyle replaced John Gregory to turn the Marina Machans’ season around to see them qualify for the playoffs, jumping from the ninth position to the fourth in the league stages. Only falling short in the finals, it was, nevertheless, a truly lovable fairy tale for both the fans and the club.
Followed by that, Owen Coyle signed a two-year deal with the Men of Steel, finishing 6th in his first season and finishing as the league premiers in the second at Jamshedpur FC. Looking at his records at the ISL, he has a combined win percentage of 50.48% and a PPM of 1.75.
Now that Coyle gets to start a new venture at Chennaiyin FC, it will be interesting to see how he takes this new project into his hands and proceeds with it. So far, a couple of crucial signings Chennaiyin FC have made are of Jordan Murray and Farukh Choudhury – one with previous ISL experience and one with experience playing under Coyle previously.
Carles Cuadrat: A new, yet familiar, reign for East Bengal
Carles Cuadrat was the successor of Albert Roca at Bengaluru FC, who led the Blues to the ISL title in the 2018-19 season and fell short in the playoffs in the season that followed. That made Bengaluru FC the first team in ISL to reach the playoffs after the season they won.
For all the creative set-pieces, there is a criticism that he has only won with the squad built by Roca. At East Bengal, he won’t have to inherit the squad built by his predecessor, Stephen Constantine. There could be a visible change in the style of play, but more importantly, the club has retained Cleiton Silva. Silva was probably the most important player for the club last season, scoring 14 goals in 22 games. He is expected to do more of it this time around with the likes of VP Suhair and new signing Javier Siverio around him.
East Bengal also marks the start of an important chapter in the Spaniard’s managerial career. It’s also only the second time that he is going to be the head coach of a team. All his earlier assignments (barring Bengaluru FC) were either as an assistant or a conditioning coach.
Juan Ferrando, On to the Next One
Juan Ferrando shut the criticisms down when he coached ATK Mohun Bagan to the playoff victory last season. That being achieved, the revamped Mohun Bagan Super Giant have cruised through the market to obtain some big names from within and beyond the country’s borders. In addition to Thapa, Sahal, Anwar Ali, Jason Cummings, and Armando Sadiku, they have topped in Omonia Nicosia defender Hector Yuste. Anything below the shield position may not sit right with the fans back in Kolkata.
Mohun Bagan also have left no crumbs in making it clear that they are coming for the AFC Cup. A champion coach like Habas has been brought in to oversee the club’s activities, whereas Super Cup-winning coach Clifford Miranda is once again going to assist Ferrando in his managerial duties.
The Spaniard, who has now entered his 40s, had a decent spell with FC Goa in the Champions League. They finished third in the group stage with three points but made history. Dheeraj Singh, who was ATK’s third-choice goalkeeper a year ago, was selected in the Team of the Group Stage by the AFC. Vishal Kaith also has an improvement arc under his coaching. That underlines Ferrando and his members’ ability to work with individuals.
Grayson’s on the wheel again!
Simon Grayson might have undone the damage to his reputation done by the Netflix documentary ‘Sunderland Till I Die’. A comeback that big deserved attention, and the EFL did justice. Over the first three to four months of the year, Grayson was all over everyone’s lips due to how he scripted a comeback to savour.
The 2023-24 squad has a few changes in it. Alan Costa, Roy Krishna, Sandesh Jhinghan, and Udanta Singh have left the club.
Grayson’s first tournament in charge was the Durand Cup 2022. Where his team emerged glorious. This time though, the club went with reserves.
Albert Roca is a respectable name in Indian Football. He has had a brilliant managerial spell with the club – that AFC Cup 2016 campaign being a major highlight of it. He is back with the club but this time as a Technical Director. While high expectations are in place for him in a new role, it could be interesting to see an Englishman and a Spaniard linking up for success.
Manolo Marquez: New Club, New Objectives
Manolo Marquez left no stone unturned to let people know of the demand for his managerial magic. ‘Magic’ because of what he did with the Hyderabad FC squad over the last three seasons. He created a team out of unrecogniseds and nobodies who can fight for the titles.
The challenges, objectives, and resources provided to him at FC Goa are different from what he had in Hyderabad. While his former team’s squad barely had any names, his new team has a lot of Indian internationals with him. The Gaurs have made notable headlines with the signings of Sandesh Jhinghan, Rowlin Borges, and Udanta Singh – all of whom have been a mainstay at the Indian National team at some point or other. Marquez may keep mentioning the lack of monetary power his clubs possess, but it would be an understatement if said that he hasn’t been provided the pedigree to put the club back to its place.
Could it be the final test for Ivan Vukomanovic?
The year 2023 hasn’t gone well for the Blasters so far. Almost all of the recent havoc seen in the club’s activity could be traced back to that one incident at the Kanteerava Stadium, where Ivan decided to walk out from the game with his team over a controversial decision that would give BFC a knockout victory.
Vukomanovic deserves a special mention as he’s been the most successful manager at KBFC. In his first season in charge, he took the team to the final. They lost to Kattimani’s brilliance in the penalty shootout. With all the competition, this season will really put things into perspective for him and the club.
However, he has managed to do what other managers haven’t been able to do – complete the second season.
Staikos Vertegis and his team are a unique new addition to the league this time around. He will coach Punjab FC, who gained ‘promotion’ to the ISL after winning the I-League in 2022-23. Punjab’s inclusion in ISL was long awaited as it has been a while since the league had a team from the north.