Ahead of the new ISL season, here’s a look at why the Delhi Dynamos has never been able to perform according to expectations
September 29 is a significant date in the calendar of all Indian football fans as it marks the commencement of the fifth season of the Indian Super League — one of the nation’s premier club level football tournaments.
The heart of Indian football in the past couple of years has always been the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium in Delhi, with all major international tournaments like the Nehru Cup and the 2010 Commonwealth games happening in it. The venue is considered one of the two footballing meccas of India — the other being Kolkata’s Salt Lake Stadium.
However, while teams from Kolkata, Chennai, Kerala and Goa have enjoyed quite a bit of success in the previous editions, Delhi Dynamos, the team that represents the capital and calls the Jawahar Lal Nehru stadium as its home ground, has always been one of the weaker teams in the ISL. In the last four seasons, the Dynamos have only entered the semi-finals twice — in 2015 and 2016 — but have always failed to reach the finals. While the 2014 season ended with the team finishing fifth, last season was perhaps the biggest low in the history of the club, as it finished at eighth in the table, losing nine out of the 14 matches they played.
But why has the team which has one of the best stadiums to its name, and with stalwarts like Alessandro Del Piero, Roberto Carlos and Florent Malouda attached to it previously have never even come close to winning any silverware?
Lack of a core
All the successful teams of the past, especially the only two champions of the ISL, ATK and Chennaiyin FC, have always maintained a core group of players, who have represented them on the field. With a balanced team, consisting of experienced international campaigners and a good mix of youth, these teams have always done well in the tournament. Delhi Dynamos has already had a total of 105 players that have played for the squad, in just four years. In fact, it has been the team to make the most number of changes to their starting 11 last season. In terms of retentions too, the Delhi boys have always lagged behind, retaining an average of four players per season, the lowest among all the ten ISL franchises.
“To maintain a winning side, you got to have stability,” says veteran football analyst Novy Kapadia. “The best teams around the world, have always maintained a stable core of 5-6 players and have built a team around it. Too much chopping and changing hurts the chances of the team, and that is exactly what has happened with the Delhi Dynamos,” he adds.
In fact, in terms of coaches too, Delhi has never been consistent. The last four seasons have seen four different head coaches. In fact, this year too, the team has appointed its fifth head coach in five years, Josep Gambau, replacing Miguel Angel Portugal.
The Delhi Dynamos have never been miserly in the transfer market. In fact, they have splurged in huge amounts of cash in the last four years, and have roped in legends and former World Cup Winners like Alessandro Del Piero and Roberto Carlos, who have headlined not only the team, but also the whole ISL.
In fact, other footballing bigshots like Florent Malouda, John Arne Riise and Simao have been part of the squad. However, it has always been the young players that have shone in dismal Delhi seasons, barring last year’s performance by Nigeria international Kalu Uche.
“The team has never relied on their Indian contingent of players. In the ISL, you need to have a strong pool of dependent domestic players, that help you win the league,” says Kapadia. In fact, the ISL has seen the rise of Indian stars like Romeo Fernandes, Jeje Lalpekhlua and Mehrajuddin Wadoo among others. But Delhi’s overdependence on its foreign stars might have led them to not succeed.
Lack of support
“One of the major problems that the Dynamos face are the empty stands that grace the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium,” says Novy Kapadia. The average attendance per match at the JLN was a little over 6,800 in the last four seasons. The JLN Stadium, after the renovation for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, has a capacity of 60,000. So, the stadium remains only 11% full on match days, attaining the lowest attendance rate in the league. The ticket prices also plummeted to Rs 45 per match, due to the low attendance rate, but still the attendance remained at an all — time low last year. In fact, the lowest recorded attendance at the Jawahar Lal Nehru Stadium is 2,300, which means 96% of the stadium was empty for that particular match.
“While other cities like Delhi, Kochi and Goa have a strong footballing culture, Delhi completely lacks it,” says Kapadia. “This is the major reason why Delhi experiences such a low attendance during high profile football matches, despite having one of the major footballing stadiums in India,” he adds.
However, the Dynamos have a loyal fan club called the Dynamos Ultra, led by president Akash Sundriyal, who says that the club has a very loyal fan base. “Delhi isn’t an easy city and people are always in a rush. For them to have a fan base such as Dynamos Ultra, which is an amalgamation of football lovers from all parts of India across all age group is indeed brilliant,” says Akash.
The 2018/19 season may mark the beginning of a new era for the Delhi Dynamos, says Shikhar Chandra, the media coordinator of the franchise. “We have brought in many talented local players this year like Daniel Lalhimpuia, Narayan Das and Bikramjit Singh. In terms of foreigners, we have brought an ISL veteran like Rene Mihelic, and also an experienced campaigner like Marcos Tebar among many others,” says Chandra.
“Our new coach, Josep Gombau, was earlier involved with Barcelona, and he will bring in a lot of experience, and help us succeed this season,” he adds.
According to Akash Sundriyal, this season the Dynamos have made more strategic buys than panic buys. “We’ve come a long way. From a club that spent tons on marquee players and got football Gods such as Del Piero, Roberto Carlos and Florent Malouda, we are now a team that’s heavily focusing and relying on our young Indian talent,” says Akash. “We are hoping for a podium finish this season,” he hopefully concludes.