New Delhi: Delhi Dynamos endured a harrowing season, finishing third from the bottom and a massive 21 points off from the top in Indian Super League, but that didn't stop the team's think tank from showing faith in their Spanish coach Miguel Angel Portugal who will be in charge of the team when they take on Churchill Brothers in the qualifiers of Hero Super Cup in Bhubaneswar on Thursday.
A refurbished Delhi, which saw a change in ownership from Den Network to GMS and the entire playing squad, showcased Spanish flare in their football style as they enjoyed lion share of possession in the majority of the ISL games. Keeping ball under their feet, however, didn't count to anything as the Dynamos slumped to 8-match winless run. The awful form pretty much dashed any hopes that national Capital-team had and soon were among the first franchises to go out of the top-four race.
When teams such as ATK, Kerala Blasters and NorthEast United FC adopted a hire-and-fire policy for their coaches for not matching the expectations, Delhi backed Portugal throughout the cash-enriched tournament.
"We have a young squad with players who played with each other for the first time. It took them time to gel together," said DD's director Rohan Sharma. "Blaming the coach for not bringing results from the moment he took charge would be unfair. And it wasn't like we were playing bad football and losing. I saw the team playing good passing football."
Portugal appreciated the optimism and vision the Delhi-based club has shown in the project.
"I am happy that the club understood what we were trying to do from the beginning," said the 62-year-old former Real Madrid B manager. "It's not easy for the owners to see that the club is not doing well but when you have a vision it is important to stick with it. I told the players in the latter half of the season that even if we are out of the playoffs we need to make sure we play for the president and for the fans who have stuck by us in difficult times."
The team gradually improved its performance and churned out an unbeaten streak from its last six games in ISL. Portugal explained how the season was a roller-coaster ride for his team.
"We started well against Pune but then individual mistakes, injuries, suspensions hurt us badly. This is a young squad so it was going to take time for all of them to understand my philosophy but as you saw that once they did we were very fluid and played good passing Football. Kalu, Arana, Irureta all provided a lot of experience to this squad and they took the pressure off the young Indian players and allowed them the freedom to move the ball," he said.
Shifting his focus to the new challenge that presents itself in legacy Goan club Churchill Brothers in AIFF's inaugural Super Cup, Portugal said they have done their homework for a side who is an unknown quantity to them.
"We have done our research on Churchill. They may have had a bad season but they are a good squad and we can't afford to take them lightly. They need to bounce back and will give their best on the field when they face us. We need to make sure we do the same and match them. It will be a really tough match," the DD coach said.