IN ITS FIRST YEAR, the Indian Super League carved out a stereotype for its marquee players. These special, "one of a kind" international signings are always aged well over 30, have been considered one of the top guys in the business at one point in their career, have usually had a diverse career playing in multiple countries, and also some memorable exploits for their national teams. They have taken on various roles of leadership and/or mentorship in the past and they are expected to take on the same mantle here; indeed the gap between marquee player and manager is often blurred, one can become the other at the drop of a hat.
Oh, and also, they often come out of professional inaction to join an ISL franchise.
Simao Sabrosa, the Portuguese winger who has been to the upper echelons of European football in his peak playing days, happens to meet all criteria. The 35 year old has played for top division clubs in 3 European countries, including prominent names like Barcelona, Sporting CP, Atletico Madrid and Espanyol. He has collected major trophies in Portugal, Spain and Turkey, including a Europa League and an UEFA Super Cup title. For his country he played and performed extensively, helping them reach the final of UEFA European Championship back in 2004.
He has also been out of work since Espanyol released him in May 2014. He spent almost a year trying to find a club, but in vain. He had almost given up and was considering taking up management when NorthEast United came knocking and voila, his playing career was re-kindled, in a tournament where a marquee player is one step away from becoming the manager. By all these standards, Simao Sabrosa is a perfect ISL marquee player.
During the pre-season, Simao has already proven that he still has his old touch intact. His return to action for a professional club went well when he scored a goal in the first match. In the next two matches, however, he has found himself clipped, unable to wade through the defenders and create chances, much to his frustration.
This is happening in Durban. In India the climate will be different. The games will be fought very competitively, in different conditions at each venue, and on a very tight schedule. For someone who has played in Europe all his life, this will be an unwelcome treat.
There is another negative stereotype about marquee players. And that is, most of them fail to deliver. Many don't even play more than half the matches. Either they pick up an injury or get strategically benched.
Injury and fatigue through fixtures and constant travelling is something NEUFC faced last year as well. As a result, their squad features a number of well-built players in their early 20s who have been obviously signed as potential substitutes for their main international strike force.
One can't be sure exactly how Simao will adapt to the demanding logistics of the ISL. But chances are, manager Cesar Farias will have to come up with some strategy to preserve him. It may be done by subbing him early every match or resting him in certain games. Either way, it will involve the person behind him in the pecking order getting a fair amount of playing times.
Seityasen Singh must be quite excited.