ISL 2021-22: Hyderabad FC aim for history after enduring hardest season of their lives
Ahead of the ISL 2021/22 final vs Kerala Blasters on Sunday, the underdogs from Hyderabad recount the unique challenges of this season.
A sense of jailbreak pervaded over the Hyderabad FC team as the ISL bio-bubble was lifted on Saturday. Less than 24 hours from possibly creating history by winning their first league title, the underdogs are in agreement that this was the hardest season of their lives.
All that remains for them to do now is to hold on for one more match - as fans troop back into the stadium after two long years of exile. Hyderabad and Kerala Blasters will fight it out in the ISL final on Sunday in front of a sold-out Fatorda crowd.
"Football is for the people," declared Hyderabad coach Manolo Marquez. "When crowds are not there, you can even hear the opposition bench talking, sometimes that can be a problem," he said.
But as the roar returns to the stadium, the coach is wondering if even his own players will be able to hear him on Sunday.
Marquez said what has set Hyderabad FC apart this season is how the team has stuck together to move through difficult situations collectively.
"The last five months in a bio-bubble has been very hard. Having your meals in your rooms can be difficult for such a long period. Before our game against Mumbai, seven players recovered from Covid and directly went to the ground from their hotel rooms. But we still managed to win that match. This shows the fighting spirit we have carried," said the coach.
Captain Joao Victor, who was one of these seven players, said this season's challenges have been more mental than physical.
Sporting a Portuguese tattoo on his forearm which says 'I love my family', the Brazilian said: "Work on this started from last season itself, but the last five months were the toughest. Staying away from your families for such a long time is the hardest part. But we prepare our whole lives for matches like the ISL final."
While the captain swore to leave it all out on the pitch, the energy in the rest of the squad was also infectious.
Defender Chinglensana Singh, who has been frantically following the ISL's social media handles for updates on the bio-bubble, said: "I'm so excited to know that all the tickets for the final have been sold out. Playing without fans for the last two seasons was just not the same."
Former PSG and Middlesbrough forward Bartholomew Ogbeche, who is the leading scorer in the season by a distance with 18 goals in 19 matches, said he can play in goal if required by his team.
"Mindset is going to take centrestage in the final, not stats. I may not be the best player in the position, but if my coach needs me to play as a goalkeeper, I can do that too," said the to-be Golden Boot winner.
Coach Manolo Marquez also said that statistics can reveal some things - like their success with crosses - but they will never be able to reveal qualities like mentality.