It’s official. The unpredictable I-League is back. Testament to that was an action-packed opening weekend where four matches produced 11 goals, with debutants and underdogs alike pushing for status, and valuable points.
The first two games of the week will now shift focus to North India, specifically to a belt that has been known to produce not just superb players but also a club whose name is hallowed in Indian Football. When Namdhari FC host Churchill Brothers on October 31, it won’t just be a debutante club meeting an age-old family enterprise, it could herald the start of a rivalry that stretches back many years.
A person who understands the rivalry — and even more keenly the prestige of a Punjab club in the I-League — is Namdhari FC head coach Harpreet Singh, a former JCT and Mahindra United star.
“It’s a matter of great pride for the players as well as everyone in the state that Punjab will have an I-League club again,” Singh says. “Obviously it’s a big challenge for me personally, to be at the helm of this young club as we take on one of the stalwarts of the league. But the boys are ready, we have been training hard and now it’s time to go.”
It is safe to say that Namdhari will go into the game without the burden of expectations on them. Despite boasting a number of experienced players — which includes Akashdeep Singh, Harmanjot Singh and Sukhandeep Singh — they have a young squad and moreover are a club that will in essence be building an aeroplane while it’s in the air.
Not so for Churchill Brothers. It will not have gone unnoticed among the club hierarchy that it has been over a decade — 10 seasons to be precise — since the Goa outfit last won the league. So long in fact, that the last time they did so was with Sunil Chhetri starting as their striking option. The India legend shipped off to Bengaluru soon after and the rest, as they say, is history.
While other clubs have pursued and made high-profile signings over the past few months to bolster their ranks, Churchill Brothers have, for the most part, gone under the radar. Their biggest coup is probably their signing of Argentine head coach Edgardo Malvestiti, a man who coached in the top tier in four Latin American countries before making his way to Goa.
The club have retained the services of Uruguayan Martin Chaves, whose injury-curtailed run at the end of last season gave hope for more fireworks this time around. Goalkeeper Subhashish Roy Chowdhary, winger Faisal Ali, and Rahul Raju are among the other eye-catching summer arrivals in a squad that will no doubt be heavy on local talent.
“We know that Churchill Brothers is a big team and everyone will view us like that,” Malvestiti said. “We have only one objective, to win the league and get promotion.
“Opening matches can be tricky, whether we are home or away. It’s tougher when you are away definitely. But I have confidence in my team. The short-term objective is to develop good coordination within the team and the first game gives an opportunity to do that well.”
The match will be broadcast live on the Eurosport channel and streamed on Indian Football YouTube channel and Fancode from 2pm IST onwards.