Led by Varun Tripuraneni, HFC have re-established themselves on the football map

Hyderabad FC won their first-ever ISL trophy after beating Kerala Blasters FC on penalties in the final held in Goa last Sunday

Hyderabad: Guts, grit and glory. That sums up Hyderabad Football Club’s season of the Indian Super League that concluded in Goa on Sunday. Playing catch up for most part of the final against Kerala Blasters, the team just turned the tables at the last minute to lay their hands on the enormous trophy and propel the city to the top of Indian football.

It’s been a long time coming. Hyderabad had dominated Indian football way back in the 1950s when as many as nine players on the Indian team were from the city.

That spark has been rekindled now, even as none from Hyderabad was on HFC’s ISL winning side. However, team owner Varun Tripuraneni promises to provide chances for talented youngsters to prove themselves.

“The youth will get lots of chances in HFC’s age group sides. Talented players and enthusiasts will have an opportunity to get trained or work with some top class coaches going forward. Hopefully they will graduate from the youth teams to the senior side over a period of time,” he told Deccan Chronicle after the victory.

“Football in Hyderabad will be a year-long activity. We will provide opportunities for all of them,” Varun pledged.

Only 37, an enterprising Varun has worked on grassroots football in Hyderabad and is the engine behind the team. The man driving it is Manolo Marquez, the coach. “The biggest strength of this squad is unity. They are a tight unit and play for each other,” he says.

“The boys have been tough mentally, to have been in a bio-bubble for almost five months is a challenge. It’s fantastic to coach these kind of players,” the 53-year-old from Barcelona, Spain, adds.

Captain Joao Victor was over the moon. “All our lives we dream of something like this and it has come true. The best thing about it is now we’re out of the bubble and I can be with my family,” the 33-year-old Brazilian beamed.

Defender Chinglensana Singh sums up the team work succinctly. “We defend from our striker all the way to the last line, not just the back four,” the 26-year-old from Manipur says.

Varun Tripuraneni, man of the moment

However, the man with the biggest connection with Hyderabad is Varun. Originally from Vijayawada, he grew up in Chennai and owns businesses in the UK — in the ceramic and building material industries.

He was also the CEO of Kerala Blasters Football Club before taking up Hyderabad FC in 2019, only to be hit by the Covid pandemic. “It’s been a rough start, extremely bumpy. We had just two months to put everything in place and ended at the bottom of the League. But here we are now,” he smiles, dimples in cheeks.

Hyderabad FC owner Varun Tripuraneni poses with the Indian Super League trophy alongside his wife Chandana Kambhampati in Goa.

Playing only their third season, HFC perhaps are the youngest football club to win a national league. “It’s a great story for the club and the City. We have a great team,” Varun says.

“It shows that there is a genuine effort to revive the sport and also build the Hyderabad FC brand in the city. The fans and football enthusiasts should know for sure that the club is here for the long haul. I think this is the first step in bringing back the glory of Hyderabad football. This is definitely the start of bigger things in store for the city,” he adds.

Talking about the success of the team, Varun said: “Over the last two seasons that coach Marquez has been in charge we have tried to keep the core intact, that’s been one of the key factors. We’ve had players like Joao Victor who has captained the team over the last two years; we have him on a long term contract. A lot of youngsters who made their debuts last year got call ups to the national team and have been regulars on our side this season.”

Four players from Hyderabad FC — defenders Chinglensana Singh, Akash Mishra and midfielders Yasir Mohammad, Aniket Jadhav — have made the Indian team for the international football friendlies against Bahrain and Belarus to be played this month.

Trailing by a goal in the tense final, Hyderabad was two minutes away from losing but Varun never gave up hope. “We have come from behind in a couple of games. We have snatched crucial points from tough circumstances in the league stage, so I was very confident that we will get that equaliser,” he said.

Substitute Sahil Tavora got that in the 88th minute with a thunderous shot that made Varun jump from his seat, took the game to extra time and then penalties, in which goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani made three super saves to script a 3-1 win for Hyderabad.

There’s no time to rest on laurels though. “Preparation for the next season actually starts now. We will sit down and assess the team, find out the gaps and try to strengthen the side even more,” Varun says.

Key stats for the Hyderabad players:

  • Golden Boot: Bartholomew Ogbeche (HFC) 18
  • Most saves by goalkeeper: Laxmikant Kattimani (HFC) 61
  • Most goals by team: Hyderabad Football Club 47
  • Most shots on target: Bartholomew Ogbeche (HFC) 32
  • Most crosses: Hyderabad FC (363)
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