by Mohul Bhowmick
Hyderabad FC’s season came to an end when they managed to fluff their chances yet again versus a submissive Mohun Bagan side in the one-off playoff for qualification in the preliminary stages of the AFC Cup 2023/24 on 3rd May.
Dominant throughout the competition, Manolo Marquez’s side managed to let Mohun Bagan come back into this game and drag them to extra time, and eventually penalties. History repeated itself from the Salt Lake Stadium and the result that had terminated Hyderabad’s hopes of retaining the title earlier in the season.
I watched in shock from home as Sahil Tavora, Odei Onaindia and Joel Chianese simultaneously booted the ball far from the goalpost and missed their respective penalties, nullifying, in effect, skipper Joao Victor’s stunning strike.
Mohun Bagan faltered when Carl McHugh’s chance was saved by goalkeeper Anuj Kumar but Dimi Petratos, Liston Colaco (a former Hyderabad player) and Kiyan Nasseri made sure that the Mariners went through with relative ease. It was an exacting sight given how poor they had been in regular time and how well the Nizams had managed to subjugate them throughout. There was, quite clearly, no one for Hyderabad to blame but themselves.
A legacy that will last
A similar story had flown when Hyderabad travelled to take on the same opponents at the Salt Lake Stadium in Calcutta in the second leg of the ISL semifinal earlier in the season, with them dominating the game throughout but failing to get enough goals to emerge as the winners.
Back then, too, they were taken to penalties by the Mariners and emerged on the losing side. Joao Victor and Nikhil Poojary had fortuitously got off the team bus as it was leaving to have a chat with me, who had been the only travelling fan, with the possible exception of my friend K, who had moved to the City of Joy a year ago.
An extraordinary season otherwise, Manolo Marquez, who departs to become the head coach of FC Goa, will be proud that he leaves behind a side that knows how to come back from tough situations and has the courage to build resistance to pressing attacks made by their opponents.
Surprises in communication (or lack thereof)
What astounds, and somewhat confuses true-blue fans like me and everyone at the Deccan Legion supporters club are the rumours which abound about a lot of our players being whisked away by other clubs who offer to pay good money. Akash Mishra, Halicharan Narzary, Javier Siverio and Rohit Danu have already left the club, with the futures of Mohammad Yasir, Odei Onaindia and my beloved Chinglensana Singh hanging in the balance.
What hurts is the lack of transparency from the club about the teeming rumours. A vast gap in communication towards the supporters is also felt, although I believe that profound attempts are underway at Deccan Legion to bridge this vacuum. A lot of the rumour-mongering is sometimes done without any visible response from the club in particular, and we intend to keep that from happening over a long period of time.
All said and done, this was a fantastic season which- despite the ups and downs- offered beautiful football to us. The confidence while retaining possession, the short and cute passes when put under pressure, the building of play from the goalkeeper and the resilience when counter-attacking from the back will unquestionably be missed, albeit wistfully.
What does the future hold for Hyderabad FC?
However, what gives me faith in my club and the project it has undertaken is that it will contrive to endure. Indeed, we might see a lot of players leaving in the ongoing transfer window, but the club has brought Hyderabad back on the footballing map after decades in exile, and a lovely system remains in place where we will continue to churn performances out on a regular basis.
What differentiates us from other top-tier clubs in the country is that our focus remains solely on the process with only a passing glance paid to the outcome. With seniors Laxmikant Kattimani, Sahil Tavora, Mohammed Yasir and Nikhil Poojary all tied down to long-term deals, the core of the team, to some extent, remains untouched.
Co-owner of the club Varun Tripuraneni’s silence on the issue as to why we keep selling our top performers remains baffling, and among the many demands that the official supporters group have made (including the laying of seats in the east stand of the G.M.C Stadium in Gachibowli), this is the one that has fallen on deaf ears most profoundly.
As a club, we are only four seasons old, but we carry a rich legacy of football in the city, which used to be a powerhouse in domestic football in the early years post-Independence. Seen as a worthy successor to the triumphant Hyderabad City Police Football Club, Hyderabad FC has done a fabulous job in resurrecting the affluent footballing heritage of the city. It is a privilege, as well as a responsibility.
So despite the tendency to self-destruct at times, Hyderabad FC will survive, for it is not the players alone that make a football club, but the culture, philosophy and ideology it embodies. For that, the Yellow and Black have to be immensely thankful to Manolo Marquez for what he has given to us. He will go down in history as the man who charmed his way around Hyderabad football and brought it back from the wilderness, ranking next only to the great Syed Abdul Raheem.
About the Author:
Mohul Bhowmick is a national-level cricketer, sports journalist, poet, essayist and travel writer from Hyderabad, India.