DSK Shivajians eyeing ‘competitive finish’ in I-League

New Delhi, Jan 3 (IANS) DSK Shivajians are looking to consolidate their position in Indian football with a “competitive finish” in the impending I-League.

DSK entered the premier football I-League in the 2015-16 season with a corporate ticket and finished at the bottom of the nine-team tournament. But being a corporate side, it was exempted from relegation to the second division.

The Pune-based club now wants to build on after achieving their primary target of staying in football’s top flight. They have signed several well-known players this season — Indian international goalkeeper Subrata Paul being the most striking, hoping to gain a foothold in the competition.

They also appointed Englishman Dave Rogers as their head coach in June, replacing Derrick Perreira.

“Our core objective is to field a team that fights for 90 minutes each match while providing our younger players with valuable experience at the professional level,” DSK Shivajians CEO Neel Shah told IANS in an interview over e-mail.

“We are all confident in the squad that Dave has put together and are anticipating a competitive finish in both the I-League and Federation Cup competitions.”

DSK begin their I-League campaign against Mumbai FC on Sunday in an away match. The club’s main focus, after an unimpressive I-League debut, has been to establish a strong foundation on which the future of the club could be established.

“It has been an exciting past few months at DSK Shivajians FC where the main focus has been on establishing the foundation for the future of the club. We started by appointing Dave Rogers as our first team head coach, an easy decision given his European football experience, success while overseeing our academy and knowledge of the Indian football landscape,” Shah said.

“In addition to Dave, we brought in a few more coaches from Europe to solidify and strengthen our backroom staff at both the Senior and Academy levels,” he added.

“We also promoted a number of our talented academy graduates up to the senior squad which aligns with our philosophy of producing home-grown players. In addition, we signed a few strong foreign players to add some strength and maturity to the team.”

DSK qualified for the semi-finals of the Durand Cup in September. This upturn in fortunes have made them confident of achieving a respectable position in the tougher I-League.

They also kept a tab in their expenditure by promoting players from their academy, built in partnership with English football club Liverpool in 2014, and negotiating competitive, reasonable wages to fill foreigner quota.

“Moving forward, we intend to keep our player budget stable and possibly reduce the figure year on year as our key focus will be on producing home grown players versus spending money to acquire players from across the country and globe,” he said.

This year the tournament will be played between 10 teams amidst a growing uncertainty of the fate of the tournament with top trio of Goan clubs Goan — Salgaocar, Dempo and Sporting Clube de Goa — and talks of a a potential partial merger of the Indian Super League (ISL) and the I-League.

The Goan clubs decided to withdraw from the competition citing differences with the All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) roadmap of seeking to make ISL the top tier league from 2017-18 and relegate the I-League to second-tier status.

Shah said DSK supports the idea of a consolidated football league structure in the country and the ISL has been a “positive”, bringing new investors and created a high profile platform for Indian players.

But they are yet to make any decision about their future in Indian club football after the unified league structure.

“We will have to understand the dynamics of this plan more before making a decision on how we would want to move forward,” he said.

“It is critical that we have one consolidated football league structure in India. This will serve to ensure players develop properly through one system, we have a set calendar year on year and the domestic landscape is clearer for all stakeholders involved.”

Shah disclosed that no communication with the AIFF had taken place so far about their participation in the consolidated ISL but they will explore the possibility if an opportunity is presented to them.