The 131st edition of the Durand Cup ended a few months back and Bengaluru FC secured their first-ever title by defeating Mumbai City at Salt Lake stadium. Despite the magnificent display by the blues on the field, it was another team that grabbed the attention of the spectators with sublime performances against superior opponents. The Desert Warriors, Rajasthan United FC, impressed the Indian football fraternity with their Durand cup campaign, however, their success didn’t come overnight. A few weeks back, they again made noise for good reasons by lifting the Baji Rout Cup held in Odisha.
No one gave them a cat in hell’s chance to qualify for the final stage of I-league qualifiers (top 4), let alone qualifying for I-league when they played the I-League qualifiers in Bengaluru. Nevertheless, they fought against all the odds and secured a promotion to the top division with a bunch of lesser-known players. Later they went on to finish 6th in the I-league 2021-2022 season, surprising everyone once again.
RUFC management had to field the team in I-league with their exiguous financial resources last year. Since I-league lasted only for 4 months last season, RUFC could bring quality foreigners for short-term contracts with their limited budget. They even had 2 former La Liga players in their squad. However, the challenges in the financial segment are even tougher this season as the football calendar of India has been expanded to 9 months and hence players have to be paid more. This year, their senior team operations will run for 10 months and they have to travel for away matches as well.
The foreign contingent of the Desert Warriors brings a lot of quality to the team. The management has extensively gone through the profiles of foreign players before choosing the right ones for their team. Former Mohun Bagan player, a seasoned I-league campaigner, Joseba Beitia holds the responsibility of the play-maker. He has ample experience in the Indian football circuit, having played here for 3 seasons. Nuha Marong, a former Bashundhara Kings player, is probably their best signing of the season. The tall Spanish-born Gambian professional footballer is well aware of the sub-continental conditions and has played in the AFC Cup as well. Martin Chaves, the Uruguayan forward who had donned North East United kit, is the other striker option of the team. With the available resources, anything other than a top 4 finish will be an unpleasant surprise for the RUFC management.
RUFC may not have well-known Indian players in their squad, nevertheless, they have quite a lot of Indian talent who may make a name for themselves this season. Hardik Bhatt, the right back, is one of the RUFC players to watch out for this season. RUFC received inquiries from Hyderabad FC for Hardik after these two sides played against each other in the Durand cup. William Neihsial, an attacking midfielder from Manipur, is another bright Indian prospect in the RUFC team who was signed from Sudeva Delhi after paying a transfer fee. Ragav Gupta, who played in the Durand cup, is another player who may make a name for himself this season. The vision of the club is probably to give opportunities to young players rather than banking on the old warhorses.
Despite having the desire to play the home matches in Rajasthan, RUFC is forced to play I-league matches at Ambedkar stadium, Delhi due to the lack of a proper stadium facility. The Maharaja Umaid Singh Stadium in Jodhpur, where I-league second division matches were held previously, lacks proper dressing rooms and other amenities.
This season’s I-league opens a massive opportunity for the clubs to qualify for ISL. Promotion to ISL will be a catch-22 situation for RUFC as they have to find even more financial resources to participate in ISL. Besides that, the Premier 1 criterion needs to be satisfied to confirm the promotion to ISL which also requires deep pockets.
RUFC may be new in the Indian football circuit but they have made a name for themselves with their never-say-die attitude.