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ISL: From triumph to tribulation, a season to forget for Hyderabad FC

An exodus of key players and head coach Manolo Marquez has hit the club hard as they languished at the bottom of the ISL points table.

ISL: From triumph to tribulation, a season to forget for Hyderabad FC

Hyderabad FC finished at the rock bottom of the Indian Super League 2023-2024 points table. (Photo credit: ISL) 


Arjun Mylvahanan

Published: 7 May 2024 6:57 AM GMT

From finishing at the bottom of the league in their debut season in 2019-2020 in the Indian Super League (ISL), they fought strength to strength and became a team to reckon with under the able guidance of Manolo Marquez.

They defied the odds in the 2021-22 season when the yellows not only finished second on the league ladder but also went on to win the ISL Cup defeating favourites Kerala Blasters in the final with a thrilling penalty shootout win.

Building on that, they finished second in the 2022-23 season as well but couldn't repeat the cup heroics as they fell short against Mohun Bagan in the ISL Cup semifinals.

The 2023-24 season, though, was different. The exodus of key players such as Akash Mishra, Javier Siverio, Joel Chianese, Halicharan Narzary, Odei Onaindia and Borja Herrera and head coach Manolo Marquez, who switched allegiances to FC Goa, meant Hyderabad FC, now into deep financial crisis, came into the new season with a lot of new faces, especially in the coaching department.

Problems started for the club early on in the season with them not being able to make Conor Nestor the head coach due to his lack of a coaching license. He was made first team coach and Thangboi Singhto was made head coach.

Under the new coaching staff, the team never managed to pick up steam. They finished the season at the bottom of the table by a fair distance, managing just eight points the entire season, 13 points below the second-last team, Jamshedpur FC.

They also managed just one win the entire season, and scored just 10 goals in 22 league games while shipping in 43, finishing with a goal difference of -33.

Conor Nestor terminated his contract at the turn of the new year, adding more woes to the club.

As if things on the field weren't bad enough, they also got penalized by off-field financial issues. They got a transfer window ban for two windows due to salary defaults to several players and officials.

"Yes, this has been a disappointing season," remarked owner Varun Tripuraneni, in an interview with ESPN. "With the changes, we knew it was going to be a challenging season but we were still confident at the start. There have been a number of challenges off the field which is known and the priority has been to address these major concerns and we are on track."

"We have a very loyal and supportive fan base. We thank them for standing by us at this difficult time," he added.

Best moment of the season

Even though Hyderabad FC might have had a very poor season, with a major rehaul of players, coaches and off-field issues, the one moment that would have undoubtedly brought them joy was their solitary win of the season against Chennaiyin FC.

Fielding a young all-Indian side, with no foreign available in the squad, Hyderabad FC shocked the two-time ISL winners in their own backyard with an 89th-minute winner from young Sajad Hussain Parray.

Goal of the season

This category was fairly easy to pick given that Hyderabad FC had amassed only 10 goals this season. Although a very disappointing season, HFC managed to bring some smiles to their fans and one such event was the 97th minute equaliser against Punjab FC by Jonathan Moya.

Trailing the game 0-1 and with barely any time left, Zothanpuia whipped in a cross from the left that was met by the head of Moya courtesy of a towering header and the Nizams famously secured a 1-1 draw from the jaws of defeat!

Player of the season

In a season with few positives, the biggest would be the youngsters who stepped up for Hyderabad FC this year.

With a massive exodus of players from the team due to non-payment of salary and financial uncertainty ahead of the 2023-24 season and during the January transfer window, the onus was on the youngsters to produce the goods. Even though they might not have lived up to the lofty standards of their predecessors, they have shown promise.

Mark Zothanpuia made a lively presence in the midfield and wing for the black and yellows. Alex Saji, recruited from Kerala Blasters, made himself a first-XI player despite some initial setbacks.

Abdul Rabeeh was another promising youngster who utilized his chances given the absence of senior players. Another very promising talent acquisition was that of Ramhlunchhunga, fondly known as 'Chhunga Hmar'. This is a winger for the future and he has shown tremendous promise this year with his direct approach and blistering pace.

But among all of them, the player of the season for HFC is undoubtedly Sajad Parray. The Jammu and Kashmir centre-back was slotted in a full-back role and he has developed into a complete full-back, showcasing his versatility.

Sajad Parray has been HFC's find of the season.
Photo Credit: ISL

Becoming a mainstay in the starting XI since January, Parray, at just 20, has shown he belongs at this level. His inclusion in the first team was unplanned, given that he was inducted into the reserve squad in the summer.

He was given the responsibility of manning the right side of HFC's defence after the departure of Nikhil Poojary in January, and he has shown maturity beyond his age.

Perhaps it was fitting that he got HFC's winning goal against Chennaiyin FC; it gave the Nizams their first and only win of the season.

Emerging player of the season

Yet again for this category, one need not look beyond the youngsters of the HFC squad as many have used this season to develop into top talent. One name that stands out is that of Sajad Parray, who broke into the first team with the departure of Nikhil Poojary and made the right-back spot his own.

The most exciting talent coming out of this year is Ramhlunchhunga. Acquired by HFC in 2022, he was sent out on loan by Sreenidi Deccan for the 2022-23 season. This year saw him break into the first team and he has since emerged as one of the most promising wingers of the league.

Ramhlunchhunga has emerged as one of the most exciting wingers in the league this season.
Photo Credit: ISL

He has all the trademark qualities of a winger, technical proficiency, a directness towards goal, lightning-quick speed and a flair. He is definitely one to look out for in the coming season.

Team rating

If one looks at Hyderabad FC's season on paper, they might think it is a poor showing and while there could be a case for that, it is important to add context as well.

This was a transition season for HFC. With key players being sold left, right and centre to account for the financial troubles off the field, the team had very little to show for on the pitch, and that was reflected in their performance as well.

Although they kept improving and showed they could compete with the other teams, the quality gap proved to be too much and they were also unlucky with late goals scored against them.

Their biggest positive ought to be the emergence of a new core of youngsters in Ramhlunchhunga, Sajad Parray and Mark Zothanpuia who have shown tremendous promise and have made good use of their chances.

Trusting these core group of youngsters and building around them is the way to go for HFC. With a transfer ban in place, there is no doubt that the coaching staff would be looking to the youngsters to take a step and lead this team back to where it belongs.

A season that has taught them a lot, a season that can only be deemed as a failure, Hyderabad FC's season rating should not be promising. It stands at poor 3/10.

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