Paul Masefield: Strong core key to attaining a certain level of consistency

Paul Masefield has been a key component of the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) since the second season. The commentator, having seen the progress of the league over the last five seasons, spoke about its development while in conversation with Anant Tyagi in the latest episode of Let’s Football Live.

“I think what we've seen over the five or six seasons so far is that if you don't change too much per season, the teams should be able to sustain a certain level of consistency. They should be able to try and push for the top four positions without wholesome changes to the squad. I think it's up to teams to get a core, which is what teams like Bengaluru FC and FC Goa have been doing,” the former right-back said.

During their session, Masefield also shed light on a variety of topics including the merger of Hero ISL champions ATK FC and Mohun Bagan, the takeover of City Football group as well as the performance of newcomers Odisha FC through the 2019-20 season. Here are some highlights of their discussion:

ATK-Mohun Bagan merger and continental football

One of the biggest talking points of the 2020-21 season is the merger of Hero ISL champions ATK and the Hero I-League winners Mohun Bagan. On this move, Masefield said, “I think it's fantastic. It automatically gives them another 18-20 players to choose from. They are going to have a huge squad, but with Asia on the horizon as well, I'm sure that there are going to be more Indian players who will want to go and play for ATK.”

Adding to this, Masefield also cited the prospect of representing the county at the highest stages of continental football as a mouth-watering opportunity for young players. According to the commentator, this makes both ATK-Mohun Bagan and Hero ISL 2019-20 League Winners FC Goa prospective destinations for rising stars in the Hero ISL. “Everybody wants to play at the highest pinnacle of football that they can, and the pinnacle is playing in the top division in your country as well as playing for the national team. Playing for your team in a continental tournament is a bonus. So every single player will be looking to try and play for ATK-Mohun Bagan, or maybe FC Goa next season,” Masefield said.

Mumbai City and City Football Group partnership

"The City Football group are pioneers for a lot of different clubs around the world. I don't think they will change everything completely overnight. They will want to feel their way in, they will want to bring in their own coach and work with certain players," the commentator remarked when asked how their partnership with Mumbai City FC will change the course of football in the league.

"The knowledge and the database that the City Group have with all their different clubs and the ability to go for pre-seasons and training will be absolutely second to none. I don't think it'll happen overnight, but I think we'll see Mumbai City starting to look like a force in Indian football, slowly over the next two seasons," he further added.

Odisha’s youngsters and Josep Gombau's departure

Having shifted base from Delhi to Odisha, a lot was expected from a young and lively Odisha FC. The team more than lived upto the expectations, finishing fifth on the Hero ISL 2019-20 table and fighting for a place in the top four till the very end. Assessing their performances during the season, Masefield said, “I think that the future is bright there; they've got some great youngsters. Shubham Sarangi just signed a new contract. They have young Jerry (Mawihmingthanga), as well as Nandhakumar Sekar. They've got some good players like Marcos Tebar, who has been one of their greatest players. They've got some good players, so they'll be okay."

The commentator however was surprised at the departure of head coach Josep Gombau, who left the club after three seasons citing personal reasons, “I thought Odisha played brilliantly, but I was shocked about the departure of Gombau. They were playing good football. It took him three years what it took (Sergio) Lobera to do in 12 months. I think that was the difference this season. I feel a bit for Josep Gombau. I think that he was the one that left. He had one more season in him and I'm sure the club tried to keep him.”

The future of Indian Football

Having seen and analysed the development of Indian football closely from behind the scenes, Masefield also shared his opinion on the future of the Indian national team, “I think that India is on the right track and they are trying to move forward. I think I can see what Indian football is looking to try and do for the next season and the planning that is being put in place with a longer season and more games, which means that the players are playing more. This will increase their levels of quality, their fitness levels and their ability to go and play for the national team as well. The bigger pool then gets selected by the national team coach, because these players are playing more games.”

The commentator, however, pointed out the one position in the national team that lacked a certain depth, “The one little thing that's lacking with the national team is the quality and the depth of the squad in terms of the striking options. If we can address that and look to get strikers in those positions over the next four to 10 years, I think India will be on the right track.”

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