“I’m extremely sorry.” Few would’ve expected Roberto Carlos to begin his pre-match address ahead of his first home game as Delhi Dynamos player-manager with an apology.
The ‘guilt’ in his voice is apparent. The Brazilian legend sets high standards for himself. In that, a bad day in office – even at 42, even after playing more than 700 games – does not figure.
The other day, against FC Goa, the full-back came on as a substitute at half-time. The moment marked his return to competitive football three years after he announced retirement. Carlos had challenged himself to deliver a vintage performance, which would silence the cynicism that was directed his – and other marquee players’ – way. But his legs wouldn’t listen to his mind.
Carlos was effective, no doubt. He played in front of the defence, brought shape and order to Delhi’s play. He still retains the magical touch, reminding that class is permanent. But towards the end, the image of Carlos hunching over on his knees and panting confirmed everyone’s fears. And the former Real Madrid star did not need us to tell him that he fared poorly.
“Last game I played was Real Madrid vs Liverpool (legends match, in June 2015). I was training a lot but didn’t play a match. I want to play since the beginning. Let the young players do the job. But I am going to help the team out always in second half,” he says on the eve of Delhi’s second match against Marco Materrazi’s Chennaiyin FC.
But Carlos isn’t the only marquee struggling. Apart from Chennaiyin’s Elano and Goa’s Lucio, none of the marquee players have stood out after the first round of matches. In fact, two teams – Atletico Kolkata and Kerala Blasters – have had to send Helder Postiga (out for one month) and Carlos Marchena (out for first five matches), respectively, back home after they sustained injuries. North East United’s Simao Sabrosa too missed his side’s first match against Kerala, and is likely to sit out the next one as well.
Before the start of the season, all eight franchises beat their chests on how they had indulged in smart buys. Indeed, they’ve become wiser in signing foreign players. But the teams, it seems, are yet to crack the marquee player code. Any player who has played in the World Cup, continental championships or major European league qualifies as a marquee player.
Understandably, those in their peak would not be keen to play in India yet. And though the over-the-hill stars who are here have added glamour, they have not created desired impact on field. The average age last year of the marquee players was 37.5 years. This year, it’s just a year less despite the claims that the players this time are ‘fitter and younger.’
Contrarily, most are out of shape. It is learnt that Pune City’s Adrian Mutu had to be benched for the first match against Mumbai City as he still has to lose a few pounds to get match fit. Mutu came in at the hour mark and in the 30 minutes he got, the Romanian made his presence felt. He provided an assist and played a couple of other delightful balls but apart from those few moments, his fitness remains a question.
Pune manager David Platt said Mutu is looking much better compared to the start of their pre-season. “He missed ten-to-eleven days of training when we came back. We took a decision before our friendly match last week that we will put him hard physically for four days. If he had played some part in that friendly last week, we wouldn’t have been able to train him that hard. Those four days and him missing that friendly enabled him to get some fitness and he is looking much better,” Platt said.
In the same match, Mumbai’s marquee player-manager Nicolas Anelka too came on as a substitute late in the second half. He looked completely out of shape, which was unsurprising as he hardly has played competitive football since the ISL last year. Suddenly, the mouth-watering possibility of Mumbai starting with a three-prong attack comprising Anelka, Sunil Chhetri and Sony Norde looks merely a tantalizing dream.
Carlos insists he’ll will continue to make second-half appearances in remainder of ISL too. The first impressions, however, leave a lot to be desired.