The Modern Management of Sreenidi Deccan | Know Your Opponent ft. Sreenidi Deccan FC

The Modern Management of Sreenidi Deccan

(Courtesy: Sreenidi Deccan FC Media)

What started off as a modest football academy in a developing outskirt of Hyderabad in 2015, has now turned into a fully functioning football club challenging for the coveted title of the I League. With the mission of an organic sustainable growth, ample investments into infrastructure and having a futuristic vision for developing a loyal fanbase, Sreenidi Deccan FC have well and truly arrived and settled in Indian Football with the goal of playing the long and slow game with smart and thoughtful spending and intense focus on youth development.

Sreenidi Deccan FC is a part of the Sreenidhi Educational Group, a branch of the Sree Group. The SEG consists of the Sreenidhi Institute of Science and Technology, an IB affiliated International School, the Sreenidhi Sports Academy and SDFC. In an interview to AIFF Media in August 2020, Director Dr Taher Mahi Katikaneni revealed that the group by then had already spent around Rs 50 crores on building the Sreenidhi Football Village in its base in Visakhapatnam. In the 21/22 season, SDFC got approved to play in the I League, only 3 years after the football club division was formed in 2018.

Unlike many other clubs they never rushed their entry into the I League. They didn’t want to suffer in the relegation zone, nor did they want to get a few claps with a mid table finish, rather they aimed for the Premiership, from the very first season onwards. They signed players from top I League clubs such as Samad Mallick from Punjab (current captain of MDSC), Lalchungnunga from Aizawl FC (who made his first National Team start in 2023), Phalguni Singh from TRAU FC (who now is a regular for NEUFC), Lalromawia from Gokulam (still playing for Sreenidi), and their club legend David Castaneda, from Zakho SC. 

SDFC’s first I League Head Coach Fernando Varela in a training session. (Courtesy: Sreenidi Deccan FC Media)

A balanced squad with good enough depth for most positions and significant involvement of Indian players led to a fourth place finish in the regular season and a third place finish in the championship half, 11 points behind Premiers Gokulam. The 21/22 I League was formatted such that all teams played each other only once in a neutral venue (due to COVID-19 pandemic), then the table of 12 was divided into 2 half of Championship round and Relegation round where the teams in their respective round would play each other once again and the points will be added on to that of the Regular Season.

Before the start of their second season, they surprisingly parted ways with their head coach Fernando Varela who had led Churchill to the runners up position in the 20/21 season and also had won the Durand with Gokulam in 2019, and instead appointed Carlos Vaz Pinto who had successful stints in Angola and Kenya. Owing to their success, other I League and ISL clubs now showed interests in Sreenidi’s players. Lalchungnunga was loaned in by East Bengal, Samad was transferred to Mohammedan while Mohammed Salah went to Punjab (and now is a starting LB for PFC in ISL). Sreenidi continued their impressive transfers by retaining most important players and also bringing in Asheer Akhtar (who now is a solid CB for NEUFC) from Mohammedan, Asraf Mondal from Bengaluru United, and Afghan midfield maestro Faisal Shayesteh. 

SDFC players after their victory over Sudeva Delhi in I League 22/23 which put them at the top of the table after MW 15. (Courtesy: Sreenidi Deccan FC Media)

This time around they entered the title race with Punjab and Gokulam, and this one had the prize of promotion to the ISL after the restructuring of the league system. However, a slump in form resulted in 2 losses and 2 draws in their last 4 games and the Punjab went on to get promoted to the ISL. It was a disappointing end to a promising season but they didn’t back down from their aspirations and by the end of the first half of I League 23/24, they again stand third in the league (same points as Kashmir but lesser GD), although Mohammedan unbeaten run from the beginning have helped them establish a 7 point distance from Sreenidi. The Deccan warriors only will have to hope MDSC get a late season slump like the third Kolkatan giant have done that multiple times meanwhile ensuring that they don’t drop points carelessly.

After 11 games, SDFC have drew twice away go Shillong Lajong and Real Kashmir and lost to Mohammedan, Gokulam and Aizawl. All these teams for the current top 6 of I League which suggests Sreenidi still do not have the edge over the big names. They have all the time and potential to turn this around and they need to take important decisions in the Winter Transfer Window to ensure that the gaps in defense and the occasional conversion issue is sorted. Until the loss against Aizawl they displayed sensational midfield dominance through Faisal, Lalromawia and Mayakkannan along with the support of wingers Hassan and Rosenberg Gabriel who after scoring 3 goals and 5 assists last season has already equalled his goal tally and has also bagged 2 assists. Loyal David Castaneda continues to lead the goal contribution charts.

SDFC players celebrate their solitary goal in their victory over Delhi FC in I League 23/24 (Courtesy: Sreenidi Deccan FC Media)

The difficulty of Carlos Vaz this season has been the defense. With ISL experienced Eli Sabia being the only constant, there have been many names playing in multiple positions in the defense. While their physicality is enough to keep the lower ranked teams at bay, but since there is no established back 4, they struggle with communication and chemistry which get exposed against sides of equal and stronger quality. Backup ST William has been decent, Hassan at LW has been excellent with his perfect crosses, dribbles and bursts of acceleration. The faster the defense of Sreenidi gets sorted, the better it will be for the proper linkages between defenders and that of the defense with the midfield. In typical Spanish fashion, it’s been a pleasing possession intensive and risk taking 4-3-3 with second captain Mayakkannan a constant feature at DM, Faisal drops deep to link up and progress or launch balls towards the wings. Due to adept wingers, the attacks have been mostly flank heavy.

“Given our growth and development plans, I believe that, possibly within the next two to three years, we should be in a position to compete in the ISL. It’s not about budget expansion but more about optimizing our resources and having a clear plan. Our goal is not just to enter the ISL but to ensure that we perform at our best and meet high standards in all aspects,” Chief Football officer, Fabio Ferreira to The Bridge. 

Sreenidi is attempting a unique method in community engagement. With a special focus on offline methods and involving the youth, by providing them free tickets and transportation, SDFC believe that the youth will sustain their interest in the game and when earning themselves, will invest into the club by going to matches and buying jerseys. This is a prime example on how this club is here to play a long long game which stretches past the 90 mins, past one or two season and involves decades of patience and consistent investment. Their world class academies across Andhra Pradesh and Telangana continue to develop the local lads and they even own their stadium and pitch, which eliminates paying massive rental charges to the stadium owner.

Mohun Bagan’s Approach

The crisis period worsens for Bagan as Hnamte is injured atleast for 6 weeks, although Anwar Ali is atleast back to Kolkata to begin his recovery with the team. Liston’s suspension will continue onto the Super Cup, while Hamill is still recovering from his hamstring. Liston, Bose, Tangri, Manvir, Thapa, Kaith and Sahal, basically our Indian core, has been called up for the Asian Cup, thus it will be a crucial time for the reserves to step up and show their prowess. Another member out of the season, rather probably forever, is head coach Juan Ferrando. A lot of internal discussions led to this, and it doesn’t need an insider to understand that it was a sour fallout between Juan and the management just after his birthday. With Habas, yes Habas, Antonio Lopez Habas, the “new” coach directing training sessions over telephone, it is obvious that we won’t be witnessing Bagan’s most beautiful gameplay in their Super Cup opener against Sreenidi, they will have to absorb a lot of attack, and will have to be very smart with evading Sreenidi’s physical defenders and smartly placed midfielders. After a break, both teams will be ready to pounce upon each other, now that the Super Cup is associated with a second tier Asian Cup Competition Slot from last year.

Probable Lineups

Mohun Bagan Probable XI

Sreenidi Deccan Probable XI

Sreenidi’s approach of organic growth, nurturing the youth and a vision of financial self-sustainability is a welcome move where many clubs in the Indian footballing circuit have closed down over the decades due to a lack of financial vision .Not only is it rare for an Indian football club to have a sufficient funding, it is rarer to find one which manages its budget in a smart effective manner, and Sreenidi Deccan’s modern ways of management brings forward a new taste of footballing growth to the country’s enthusiasts and serves as a model for current and future investors.

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