The rise of Hyderabad FC: How a bunch of talented Indian youngsters are driving the Manuel Marquez revolution

Hyderabad FC endured a disappointing first campaign in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) in the 2019-20 edition. They had Phil Brown at the helm but the Englishman couldn’t inspire them to a strong debut season as they limped to a tenth-place finish.

Throughout that campaign, they conceded 39 goals (the most in the Hero ISL) and only scored 21 goals (the second lowest in the league). In a nutshell, they had problems at both ends of the pitch. Thus, it wasn’t a surprise that Brown was sacked midway through the 2019-20 season.

Hyderabad FC initially took a bit of time to narrow down on a coach. Not just because they required someone to build the club from scratch, but also because they needed someone capable of optimising the resources at their disposal.  

Albert Roca, who was appointed as their head coach before the 2020-21 campaign, seemed an ideal choice, considering his previous stint with Bengaluru FC. However, when he departed – a few weeks before the term began, Hyderabad FC had their task cut out.

They installed Manuel Marquez at the helm – someone who hadn’t plied his trade in the Hero ISL but had developed an excellent reputation of working with youngsters in Spain.

Faith in Indian youth

Before the 2020-21 term began, Hyderabad FC didn’t have many accomplished Hero ISL superstars. Aridane Santana was perhaps the only footballer who satisfied that criteria. Marquez, though, barely flinched and took a massive punt on the Indian players – players who have always been talented but found opportunities hard to come by.

By the time the campaign ended, Hyderabad FC had, owing to their extraordinary trust in youth, nearly upset the odds. They finished fifth and had the rub of the green gone their way, could’ve even eked out a top-four spot.

Yet, that didn’t deter their band of youngsters and Marquez, meaning that the Hyderabad FC, armed with youthful exuberance, are slowly but surely establishing themselves as title contenders in Hero ISL 2021-22.

A large chunk of their success is based on how their Indian players have performed. Prior to 2020-21 season, not many would’ve heard of Akash Mishra, Hitesh Sharma, Mohammed Yasir, and Rohit Danu. Each of them, though, are playing pivotal parts in Hyderabad FC’s ascent into the higher echelons of the Hero ISL.

The Asish Rai-Akash Mishra combo

Asish Rai, meanwhile, has improved massively since Marquez’s arrival. The Spaniard has tightened the defender’s defensive game and has also given him the freedom to bombard forward – aspects that have made Rai stand out.

Chinglensana, on the other hand, was a part of the FC Goa set-up between 2017 and 2020. He only made 19 appearances for the Gaurs though. Since turning up at Hyderabad FC, he has been brilliant and has already made 23 appearances, despite having signed in 2020.  

The most refreshing bit is that Marquez has managed to drill these Indian players to play a specific brand of football – a non-negotiable brand of football that banks on keeping possession and tactically outwitting the opponent. It is quite remarkable that Hyderabad FC have shown the inclination to completely embrace that philosophy, despite having a core of youngsters.

For a major part of this season, Hyderabad FC have picked and chosen their moments to attack. They’ve not been too shabby at the back either. A perfect example would be the camaraderie Mishra and Rai have portrayed so far.

At times, Mishra rampages forward, with Rai acting as the third defender, whereas on other occasions, both full-backs switch their roles. Both of them do so with absolute conviction, meaning that Hyderabad FC are rarely left chasing shadows.

In midfield too, Yasir seems to have developed an excellent understanding of when to venture in-field and when to provide width. Danu is another exceptionally talented footballer who has, under Marquez, learnt to make the most of his actions – both defensively and offensively. Sharma has also been tidy in possession and has acted as the perfect foil to Joao Victor.

Similarly, Chinglensana has morphed into arguably the best ball-playing central defender in India. Not only has he helped in retaining possession, he has also played defence-splitting cross-field passes – something the likes of Bartholomew Ogbeche, Joel Chianese, and Edu Garcia have thrived on.

More Indians on the pitch, the better?

In the 2021-22 edition of the Hero ISL, Hyderabad FC have already handed out 1950 minutes to players under the age of 25 – a tally that is only bettered by Jamshedpur FC and Mumbai City FC. Much like the defending champions and Jamshedpur FC, Marquez's side also find themselves in the higher trenches of the points table.

Thus, there is enough for the Hyderabad FC faithful to be excited about this season. So far, the headlines have been hogged by Ogbeche and his scoring exploits. Rightly so too.  

Yet, he would be the first to admit that Hyderabad FC’s success is built on their effervescent group of youngsters – youngsters who aren’t afraid of any opposition and are developing the requisite tactical nous to get the better of opponents.  

Back in 2019-20, it didn’t seem that Hyderabad FC would chart such an upward trajectory. At the time, everything that could go wrong was going wrong.  

Instead of baulking at the circumstances, they placed their faith in Indian youngsters and a relatively unknown coach, and they are now reaping the rewards. Not just in terms of where they might end up in the Hero ISL but in also creating a magnificent pool of players that could potentially represent India.    

The Hero ISL has long been looked upon as a competition that directly benefits the national team and the footballing ecosystem in the country. And, with each passing game, Hyderabad FC are embracing that philosophy.   

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