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The underappreciated genius of ISL’s infancy • Outside of the Boot

The underappreciated genius of ISL's infancy • Outside of the Boot

On the eve of the newest version of the ISL, Arinjay Ghosh pays a tribute to Borja Fernandez, an ISL legend.


Sixty-eight minutes had handed on a windy October night in Kolkata when Luis Garcia slid into the opposition penalty space making an attempt to chest down a lofted cross. Because the ball bounced off the Spaniard’s chest, it was agriculturally booted away. About 24 yards away from aim, one other Spaniard chested it down – with grace befitting a Spanish worldwide footballer – and in a movement resembling a whiplash, he struck the ball again in the direction of aim, virtually pirouetting in recoil. On one other night time, the ball might have whistled previous the submit, however on that night, it whistled a special tune; and as 84,000 contained in the Salt Lake Stadium erupted in unanimous delight, the glitterati within the VIP field stood up in awe – some with palms on their heads accompanied by a sheepish smile, whereas others with a gaping jaw of bewilderment. Borja Fernandez had simply welcomed the world to the Indian Tremendous League with a aim that was later described as “a objective that may grace any league in any nation on the earth.”

The Indian Tremendous League ushered in a recent daybreak to Indian soccer. Regardless of the various complaints towards the league, it has carried out its job when it comes to making soccer a financially viable choice in a rustic the place beforehand simply enjoying the game wouldn’t assure a sustainable way of life. Aside from that, there was an enormous improve in technical experience and professionalism in the direction of the sport. One of many pioneers on this regard was Atletico De Kolkata who have been fast in realizing that the important thing to continued success can be a close-knit group with a persistently strong work ethic. The Sourav Ganguly co-owned franchise, thus, struck a partnership with Atletico Madrid of Spain and left the recruitment of employees and foreigners utterly to the Spanish aspect. Whereas most different franchises roped in marquee names properly previous their prime, Atletico Madrid had constructed for his or her Kolkata namesake a really quiet, but competent aspect. Bred within the Atletico ethos of grit, onerous work and willpower, this staff managed to grow to be probably the most constant and profitable group of the league, profitable two of the primary three championships.

Thus, when it was introduced earlier than the 2017 participant auctions, that Atletico Madrid would not be related to Atletico De Kolkata, it got here as a impolite shock. The membership modified their identify to ATK and determined towards retaining any of the overseas gamers or teaching employees. A customary look on the factors desk is sufficient to conclude that this didn’t bode nicely for ATK as they completed second final and missed out on the semi-final for the primary time of their historical past. ATK was a soccer lover’s disaster within the fourth season of the ISL, struck with accidents and uninteresting soccer stemming from an apparent overdose of poor recruitment. However maybe one factor which will have harm them greater than their break up with Atletico Madrid was severing ties with a former participant of their cross-town rivals, Borja Fernandez.

Borja began his profession as a 15-year-old when he joined the Actual Madrid academy the place he rose via the ranks enjoying for his or her C and B groups earlier than lastly breaking via into the primary workforce in 2003. Borja’s keep at Actual Madrid wasn’t very fruitful as he made solely 38 appearances over two seasons for the Los Blancos however that is, the place he says, he educated himself in soccer. Enjoying within the Galactico period alongside Beckham, Zidane, Raul, Figo, Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos, Borja acquired immense studying on the pitch in addition to off it, watching how these international icons carried themselves. Borja definitely used his education to good impact as soon as he left Actual Madrid in the hunt for common soccer. In his subsequent 9 seasons, Borja inculcated the values that typified him to be the Atletico Madrid prototype in his India chapter.

One of many main drawbacks of the ISL, through the years, has been stability of the groups when it comes to participant retentions. Whereas a lot of the foreigners which have visited the Indian shores have both been too previous to stay match or too inexperienced to compete, the Indians have been volleyed round totally different groups with one-year contracts. Amidst this chaos, ATK’s Borja together with Arnab Mondal and Ofentse Nato would become the one gamers to play for a similar staff; and whereas Arnab and Nato discovered it troublesome to frequently begin within the third season, Borja emerged because the undisputed fixed of ISL’s infancy.

Arriving in Kolkata with over 200 La Liga appearances, it was apparent that Borja would slot immediately into the Atletico midfield. However what only a few envisioned was the influence he would go on to have on the aspect in his tenure. Within the first three seasons of the ISL, as alluded to earlier, solely three gamers would put on the identical crest all through and Borja was the flag bearer of this consistency. The Spanish midfielder was the supervisor’s delight within the early a part of the primary season, enjoying in each place the supervisor requested him to. Being from Spain, he was technically sensible and like most different quarterbacks, tactically conscious. Realizing his capability to learn the sport, halfway by way of the primary season, then ATK coach, Habas, stopped tinkering with formations and deployed Borja as his midfield basic, a transfer that might set up Atletico De Kolkata as an ISL powerhouse.

Enjoying in a predominantly defensive system underneath each, Habas (within the first two seasons) and Molina (third), Borja’s self-discipline and consistency set him aside from his contemporaries. Borja embodied the supervisor’s techniques on the pitch, a trait that noticed him shortly take over from Luis Garcia because the official membership captain. In truth, so apparently telling was Borja’s consistency that he turned the only routine presence as one of many two double pivots in Atletico’s Four-2-Three-1 construction. Regardless of having to cope with a number of totally different companions, Borja managed to tweak his personal recreation permitting his companions to play their pure recreation. When he performed with Gavilan, Borja allowed him to dictate play whereas himself sitting again defending the defence. When he performed with Nato, he would journey the size of the pitch when in possession and sit beside the Botswana worldwide when off the ball. There would typically be occasions when Arnab can be unfit requiring the supervisor to area a foreigner in his place. With a cap on the variety of foreigners every group might area, it routinely meant Borja must begin with both Jewel Raja or Rakesh Masih. On evenings like these, Borja would fairly actually play two individuals directly – from ensuring his group doesn’t get overrun in midfield to defending the again 4 and even galloping ahead to offer an choice in assault, Borja would genuinely do all of it.

Purely from a statistical standpoint, Borja is a metronome – fairly evidently a midfield maestro. The defensive midfielder, in his 47 appearances, ranks prime of the charts when it comes to interceptions, tackles and clearances, with 115, 181 and 127, respectively. These, alongside together with his common of blocking a shot each recreation, ensured that the midfielder handled hazard a lot earlier than it befell his again 4 as may be evidenced by the 1.33 objectives conceded per recreation in his absence as in comparison with the meagre zero.85 in his presence. One other exceptional facet of his, is that regardless of clearly being tasked with doing the soiled work, Borja missed just one recreation on account of suspension – a transparent indicator of his capacity to commit clever fouls that hardly drew the official’s ire whereas breaking the opponents’ attacking movement. Whereas his group’s footballing philosophy warrants an excellent defensive output, his productiveness on the ball is astonishing. For a staff doesn’t consider in possession, Borja averages an astonishing 50 passes a recreation. Actually, his tally of touches and passes is the very best within the historical past of the league. This merely states that every part his group did, went by way of him.  Tangibly summarizing a mean night in Borja’s life – the midfielder makes 2.5 tackles, Four interceptions, 1 block, 2.7 clearances, completes 50 passes, takes 66 touches, delivers 1.5 crosses and shoots 1.2 occasions.

Regardless of his many contributions on the pitch, Borja stood for much extra in Atletico De Kolkata’s arrange. He was extra than simply the participant on the pitch. Arriving merely months after Atletico Madrid gained the La Liga and completed runners-up within the champions league, he was the archetype of the brand new Atletico Madrid in Atletico De Kolkata. Though bred in Actual Madrid, his 9 years of battle within the lower-middle half of the desk had moulded him within the Atletico spirit. Borja was an apt illustration of the Spanish membership’s funding in Kolkata. In Kolkata, Borja stood for every thing Simeone did, by means of his gamers, in Madrid. Borja was hardworking and disciplined; he was gritty and tenacious off the ball and environment friendly and fluent on it. He was an trustworthy illustration of a bygone period of relentless, industrious widespread males and this made him natural to root for. He knew his limitations and by no means tried something flashy but each time he left the pitch, his face advised you that he had given every thing on it. As soon as the sport was over, one might hardly discover him, but through the 90 minutes, he was visibly the chief. He spoke to his gamers and had the uncommon potential of controlling the tempo of the sport even when he didn’t have the ball. On the ball he was fairly sensible in assessing when to counter and when to carry on to the ball. He might additionally select a shrewd move when he so desired nevertheless it was his capability to know when to press and when to drop again that made him a singular asset in his supervisor’s arsenal.

It’s fairly evident that the Kolkata franchise miss him. The fourth season of the ISL has been a far cry from the three profitable earlier seasons they’ve had with him within the aspect. In reality, the one season Atletico didn’t win the title was when Borja pulled a muscle within the first leg of the semi-final within the second season. He walked off within the 42nd minute, following which the staff capitulated conceding three objectives to eventual champions Chennaiyin FC. In Borja’s presence, Atletico didn’t lose a single knockout tie and conceded simply three objectives in six video games. He was ATK’s largest massive match participant and he churned out his most particular performances away from house within the second leg of the 2 semi-finals ATK gained. In each video games, he gained man of the match defending his again 4, serving to them earn clear sheets and main his staff on to the ultimate. He was additionally ATK’s go to man when it comes to decisive penalties, efficiently changing the fourth penalty on two totally different events serving to ATK win two titles. Thus, it’s fairly unhappy that regardless of his apparent contributions, the one time he was ever serenaded was on the finish of the third season when he gained the “fittest participant of the season” award. Borja fell prey to a standard evil of the game. He wasn’t the objective scorer or the dribbler, he didn’t have tempo to burn nor did he attempt audacious strikes – he was a easy staff man and he was completely happy to be that. He performed able the place his presence was hardly appreciated and like another quarterback value his salt, now that he’s gone, his absence is being dearly felt.

Whereas on its forthcoming pilgrimage to the annals of historical past, many will emerge to put in writing and rewrite the story of the Indian Tremendous League, let it not be forgotten that the legacy of its infancy irrevocably belongs to the unappreciated genius of Borja Fernandez.

Arinjay Ghosh

Arinjay Ghosh

Media Operations Volunteer at FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017. Former Media Consultant and Journalist at All India Soccer Federation. Former Content material Creator and Analysis Analyst at Exhale Sports activities. Additionally the generic engineer and the very generic United fan

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