Fans have always associated football in India with Bengal, Kerala, Goa and the NorthEast but for close to two decades after independence, Hyderabad was a big part of our story. The British army had introduced the game to the region and under the patronage of the Nawab of Tarband and the Maharajas of Kakinada and Rajahmundry, the game flourished.
The death of Syed Abdul Rahim in 1963 set Indian football back for a long time but the game in Hyderabad suffered the most. The city that gave us players like Yousuf Khan, Tulsi Balaraman, Noor Mohammed and S.K. Azizuddin fell off the map completely. There has been a revival of interest in recent years and Hyderabad FC make their bow in the Indian Super league this season.
They are FC Pune City in a new avatar with the struggling franchise having been taken over by new owners. Phil Brown remains as coach and the management have wisely decided against making wholesale changes in their first season. They have only retained Marcelinho and Marko Stankovic from the foreign contingent though, which might not be a bad thing since the overseas contingent let the side down hugely in the first half of last season. Marcelinho was a slightly disruptive presence himself, but his undoubted pedigree seems to have worked in his favour. Brown will hope that his talisman will have his head screwed on right this season.
Néstor Gordillo had a huge impact on Chennai City’s I-League title win last season and is an exciting signing. He will miss the first half of the campaign though, having been slapped with a four-month ban by the AIFF for breach of contract. Rafa López returns to the side after a year’s gap and should partner newcomer Matthew Kilgallon at centre-back. Giles Barnes and Bobô have been added to the squad to provide the goals.
Amongst the Indians, Ashique Kuruniyan will be a big miss, having made the move to champions, Bengaluru FC. He made merry with Diego Carlos on the wings in Brown’s 3-4-3 formation but their defensive output wasn’t great and it remains to be seen if the manager will lineup the same way this season. Nikhil Poojary will look to build on his burgeoning reputation as will Laldanmawia Ralte, who has joined from East Bengal.
Adil Khan was a bright spot in central midfield last season. While he has filled in at centre-back for the national team recently, his skills would best be utilised in the middle of the park alongside Stankovic. Robin Singh will provide back-up in the goals department and that could be the area where Hyderabad could struggle this season.
The new franchise would probably take a mid-table finish in their first season. After the drama of last year which saw two managerial changes, they could do with some stability in that department. The big question is if the team can get the local population to fall back in love with the game. Fateh Hyderabad AFC, who play in the I-League Second Division, have relocated to Anantapur and Bengaluru in the last couple of seasons.
For now however, football is back in the twin cities and that is cause for celebration in itself.