Indian Super League (ISL) club FC Goa on Thursday announced the come back of forward Iker Guarrotxena for the upcoming 2024–25 season. The 31-year-old Spaniard’s presence is expected to be a significant boost for the Gaurs as they aim for glory in the ISL, Durand Cup, and Kalinga Super Cup.

Guarrotxena first joined FC Goa in the 2022–23 season, making an immediate impact both on and off the field. In 23 appearances across the ISL and the Kalinga Super Cup, he scored 13 goals, becoming the club’s top scorer for the season. His technical brilliance and leadership qualities quickly established him as a fan favourite and a crucial part of the team’s success.

After his impressive stint with the Men in Orange, Guarrotxena returned to Spain but soon found his way back to India, joining Mumbai City FC for a short spell last season.

In just six matches for the Islanders, he registered three goals and two assists, playing a pivotal role in their strong performance in the latter half of the ISL League Stage, which concluded with them finishing as runners-up, just above the Gaurs.

Commenting on the signing, FC Goa head coach Manolo Marquez said, “We are delighted to welcome Iker (Guarrotxena) back to FC Goa. He’s a complete player with great spirit and character and is well-acquainted with Indian football.

“With Mumbai City FC last season in Mumbai, he was both decisive and dangerous, scoring crucial goals. His experience and ability, along with the familiarity with our playing style and previous success with the club, make him a tremendous addition to the squad,” he noted.

Iker Guarrotxena himself shared his enthusiasm as well: “To be back in FC Goa is not just about returning back to play for a former team; it means a whole lot for me. I am back where I feel at home and reuniting with several friends who I had to part ways with much earlier than when I would’ve liked.

“This return will be so special – and of course, I’m coming back to a team where I believe I can win.

“I’m coming not just because I love the city and the club; it’s also very much because I deeply believe we can lift some trophies in this upcoming season. I am so excited to celebrate something with all Goans,” he added.

Born and raised in Bilbao, in northern Spain, Guarrotxena brings a wealth of experience from various leagues, including his early career in Spain. Guarrotxena’s senior football debut came in 2011 with CD Basconia in the Tercera Division. His journey then took him through various other clubs, including Arenas Getxo, CD Tenerife, CD Mirandes, and Cultural Leonesa.

In 2018, he ventured abroad, joining Polish top-division team Pogon Szczecin, followed by stints at the Greek Super League’s Volos NPS and Australia’s A-League side Western United.

Iker Guarrotxena returned to Spain in 2021 with UD Logrones in the Primera Division RFEF, finishing as the fourth-highest goal-scorer with 14 goals, aiding his team’s promotion play-off quest.

However, it is his time in India – especially with FC Goa – that has truly defined his career in recent years.

As the Gaurs now gear up for the 2024–25 season, Guarrotxena’s return is poised to be one of the most significant signings, bringing both experience and a proven track record in Indian football to the squad. They have also already announced several other new arrivals, such as Aakash Sangwan, Muhammad Hammad, and Lara Sharma, while Odei Onaindia, Jay Gupta, Muhammed Nemil, Arshdeep Singh, Rowllin Borges, and Mohammad Yasir have extended their terms.

Mumbai City FC sign Greek striker Nikolaos Karelis

Mumbai City FC on Thursday secured the services of Nikolaos Karelis on a one-year contract until the end of the 2024–25 season.

Karelis began his journey with Greek side Ergotelis at age 16, making his debut on the final day of the 2007–08 Greek Super League season and becoming the youngest player ever fielded for Ergotelis in a league match. He has showcased his skills extensively and successfully for Greek clubs like Panathinaikos, PAOK, and, most recently, Panetolikos, whom he captained. Outside Greece, he has featured in other top European countries, including stints with Genk (Belgian Jupiler Pro League), ADO Den Haag (Netherlands Eredivisie), Brentford (English Championship), and Amkar Perm (Russian Premier League).

The 32-year-old has also made his mark in the UEFA Europa League group stages, featuring in them both for Panathinaikos and Genk and scoring four goals in 12 appearances. Throughout his club career, spanning 361 games, Karelis has been known for his all-round game and contributing in the final third, with 103 goals and 29 assists.

Before featuring for the Greece Senior National Team, Karelis regularly played and scored for the national youth teams, netting 15 times in 43 appearances. In his full international debut with the senior team, he scored against Finland in Helsinki during the UEFA Euro 2016 Qualifiers. He represented his country in 19 matches, scoring three goals.

The 32-year-old Karelis will look to bring his leadership, distinctive playing style, and extensive experience, in his eagerness to contribute to Mumbai City FC's ambitions for the upcoming season.

Nikolaos Karelis said:

"I am thrilled to embark on this new journey in a culturally rich country. I have heard many wonderful things about Mumbai City FC and can’t wait to join the club. The team has achieved significant success over the past few years, and I am eager to contribute to its continued success in the upcoming season. I look forward to being part of this dynamic team and playing in front of their passionate fans."

Petr Kratky – head coach, Mumbai City FC, said:

"Nikos (Karelis) is a highly talented player who perfectly matches the requirements we expect from our forwards. He has experience playing in various European countries and has consistently proven his caliber in different leagues. We trust his capabilities greatly and are excited to have him with us at the club for the upcoming season. We believe his skills and experience will be valuable to our team."

Kandarp Chandra - CEO, Mumbai City FC said:

"We are delighted to welcome Nikos (Karelis) to Mumbai City FC. He is a very experienced player who has demonstrated his abilities in various European leagues. Karelis embodies the characteristics and ambition of a Mumbai City FC player, and we are confident he can help us achieve our objectives in the upcoming season."

Akhtar and Michu extend stay with NorthEast United FC

NorthEast United FC on Thursday announced the extensions of Asheer Akhtar and Mirshad Michu. Centre-back Akhtar has signed a two-year contract extension, while goalkeeper Michu will continue with the team until 2025.

Akhtar was one of the standout performers for NEUFC last season, demonstrating remarkable consistency and strength in defense. The 29-year-old defender from Kamptee, Maharashtra, featured in 19 league games last season.

In his first ISL season, Akhtar gained invaluable experience and proved his mettle by clocking over 1600 minutes of playtime. His contributions were not just limited to defense, as he also scored a goal and provided an assist. The defender has spent the majority of his career in the I-League, playing for some of the top teams and honing his defensive capabilities.

Akhtar expressed his gratitude for the continued support, stating, "I am thrilled to extend my contract with NorthEast United FC. This club has become my home, and I am excited about the direction we are heading. The upcoming season is going to be exciting, and I can't wait to give my best for our fans and the team."

Juan Pedro Benali, head coach of NorthEast United FC, expressed his confidence in Akhtar’s abilities, saying, "Asheer (Akhtar) is a top professional, and we are happy to have him for another year. His presence provides us with much-needed stability in defense. Having a good Indian center back is crucial, and we feel we have one of the best in the country with us."

Mandar Tamhane, CEO of NorthEast United FC, echoed Benali’s sentiments, stating, " Asheer (Akhtar) has proved why he is one of the best in the league. His presence in the backline is vital for us. We trust him because he has shown us that he can become one of the best and be in contention for a spot on the national team."

The Highlanders have also revealed their second extension of the day, as goalie Mirshad Michu also extended his stay with the club for the forthcoming season.

Michu has demonstrated his commitment to improving his game and contributing to the team. His experience and skills make him one of the best options to have as a backup goalkeeper. With Gurmeet Singh and Michu, the goalkeeping unit is stable. Moreover, Michu plays a crucial role in maintaining team bonding and helps our foreign players settle in and feel at home, making him an invaluable part of the dressing room.

Head coach, Juan Pedro Benali expressed his delight, stating, "He has shown great determination to improve, and we believe he has the potential to be an important part of our squad. With Gurmeet (Singh) and Mirshad (Michu), we have a stable and strong goalkeeping unit. Additionally, Michu's ability to foster team bonding and help our players adjust is invaluable. He is a key figure in the dressing room."

Michu, equally elated about his contract extension, commented, "I am grateful to NorthEast United FC for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to continue with the club. Last season was tough, but I am determined to work harder and prove myself. With the support of the fans and my teammates, I am confident we can achieve great things together.”

The club’s CEO, Mandar Tamhane, expressed his confidence in Michu's contract extension, stating, "Mirshad (Michu) has faced some challenges, but we have faith in his abilities. His commitment to the team and willingness to improve have impressed us. We believe in his potential and are confident that he will contribute positively to the team. We value his presence both on and off the field."