Hyderabad FC head coach Manolo Marquez believes the continuity in the team has been one of the major reasons behind their recent success as the defending Hero Indian Super League (ISL) champions begin their title defence against Mumbai City FC in their Hero ISL 2022-23 opener at the Shree Shivchhatrapati Sports Complex, in Pune, on Sunday.

With an unchanged core and new signings added to the mix, HFC have a solid squad heading into the new season, and Marquez expects his side to be competitive again as they look to defend their title. He further said that the return of fans would be a boost for the team.

Captain Joao Victor and vice-captain Nikhil Poojary were also part of the press conference as the duo shared their views on the upcoming season, the return of the fans, and more.

Here are the excerpts from Manolo Marquez’s press conference:

It's a brand new season and we face Mumbai City FC in our opening game. So how has the preparation been for you?

Once the season starts you have to be ready, prepared, happy, everything because you play football because you like it. At this moment, if you ask this question to all 11 coaches, the answer will be very similar. The preseason was long for some teams, for the others it was different. Some teams played in the Durand Cup while other teams were abroad. Some teams started very early, and some later, but finally, the main target (for all) is to arrive for the first (Hero ISL) match in the best condition possible.

You got to have a look at the team with the new signings and existing players mixing together in the Durand Cup. So how do you expect the team to be ready for the first game against Mumbai City FC?

I think that we are a team with a lot of continuity. I think that is one of the keys to our success in the last two seasons. Of course, we signed some players and they had minutes during the Durand Cup, and they took advantage of these minutes. In terms of how we play, how they played, we are happy. We know that it is very difficult in the first game when you arrive in the best condition, because it is not normal, same with the other teams. But we are confident that the team will be competitive again. We have a very hard game against our opponents for sure. They will have options for sure, but we will have options to win the game too.

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This season will see the return of the fans. So how big of a role will they play in the team’s performance throughout the season?

First of all, we had the opportunity to play the Hero ISL 2021-22 final in front of fans and it was fantastic. But the feeling of playing in front of a crowd, in the stands was very, very good. Even though Kerala Blasters had more fans, for our fans it was fantastic (experience) because we won and because they helped us.

Our experience in the Durand Cup was a good one. It was nice to play in Imphal against Neroca FC and Chennaiyin FC with the stadium practically full. And for all of us and the people who play football, football is for the fans. And it’s not the same when you play in an empty stadium and a stadium full of people.

Here are the excerpts from Nikhil Poojary’s press conference:

It’s a new season and a new challenge for the team. As players, how excited are you for the new season?

I think it has been two difficult seasons for us in the bio-bubble. We all wanted to play in front of fans. Unfortunately, we won't be playing in the Gachibowli Stadium for the opening match. But fans coming back is a huge boost for us. And everyone is really excited for this season.

You’ve been with the club since the 2019-20 season. As one of the few players who have been there since the start, how have you seen the club progress?

The club is growing and with that, even I am growing. The club is fairly young, it has been three seasons. We had witnessed downs, as well as a good season in the second year (since our inception). The third season and last year, we were champions. We have done a huge improvement from the first season to the third season. We want to keep doing that. We are looking forward to this season.

How do you see the challenge of playing back-to-back games to begin the league with - on the 9th and 13th?

As a player, you want to play games. We have been waiting and we have been training for a long time now. I don't think it will be a challenge. Usually when you play back to back games, it is difficult, but now we're now excited for these games.

Here are the excerpts from Joao Victor’s press conference:

Captaining the team to the Hero ISL title last year, how does it feel to deal with the pressure of becoming the first team to defend the title?

As I always say, it's not a challenge for me to be captain. There's not just one leader in the team, we have many leaders and many experienced players who can help the young players. And, of course, everybody is expecting more from us this year. We are the defending champions and we want to keep playing that way. But now we start from zero again. We need to keep growing as a team and as a group to fight for the title again.

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You mentioned starting from zero but other teams will come hard at you given that HFC are the defending champions. So do you think that this will give you and your teammates some added motivation?

Playing football is a motivation itself. But I think from last year already the other clubs were seeing us as a threat. And of course we are the champions and everyone wants to beat us, but we are ready for that.

How important will it be playing in front of fans after two seasons in the bio bubble?

We'll be playing after two years in a bubble. Even though we could feel the support through social media and even on the screenings on the beach, we could feel it. But of course it's going to be a boost to have to have them in the stadium. Unfortunately, we can’t have them in the first game. Let's hope that some of them can come to watch even if it's not here (in Hyderabad). But we want to feel them in the stadium because it can help us.