Mumbai's glamour team Mahindra United is pulling all stops to find a suitable replacement for their ace Brazilian striker Jose Ramirez Baretto, who switched allegiance to his former team Mohun Bagan for the coming season.
Having managed to retain 26 of the 30 players who did duty for them last season when they emerged the National Football League and Federation Cup champions, Mahindra United are now looking for a striker and an attacking midfielder to fill the void left by the departure of Baretto, Deepak Mondal, Subhash Chakraborty and Surajit Bose.
"We want to recruit two top foreign players, and for that we are targeting Brazil, Ghana and South Africa. The players we will recruit will be surely comparable or better than those we have lost. Our goal this year is winning the AFC Cup in addition to the Federation Cup and NFL," Mahindra United president Alan Durante said in Mumbai on Tuesday.
Paying rich tributes to Baretto, Durante explained that a huge offer and his involvement in a football academy that will come up shortly lured the Brazilian back to Kolkata.
"But he (Baretto) could be back next season. He indicated that before leaving," Durante added.
Besides retaining the services of Ghanian striker Yusif Yakubu, who was being wooed by teams from the Gulf, Mahindra United also retained India internationals Mahesh Gawli, S Venkatesh, Surkumar Singh, Steven Dias, goalkeeper Sandip Nandy and Abhishek Yadav.
"All of them had lucrative offers from some big teams but decided to stay on. The desire of the players to continue with Mahindra United reflects positively on our professional set-up," Durante said.
The team has hired two players of Indian origin from England Humair Rahimtula, a midfielder-striker, and Adnan Rahimtulla, a striker.
"Both have impressed in trials and should fit into the team. There's a clause that they have to play for a country before entering the English Premier League and the twins have targeted the Indian national squad to achieve this purpose," Durante said.
The new players in the team are: International N P Pradeep (defender, from SBT), Nicholas Rodrigues (medio, Sporting Clube de Goa, in the India camp), Mohd Rafi (striker, SBT), Bhola De (medio, Tata Football Academy/Tollygunge), Chiman Apparao (medio/striker, Air India), Humair Rahimtula (UK Academy medio/striker) and Adnan Rahimtula (UK Academy/ striker).
Durante lauded the showing of coach Derrick Pereira, who was appointed last season, and said he has been retained on a long-term basis.
"This year's team has an interesting mix of talent, youth and experience. Derrick's ability to keep the team motivated showed in its success," he added.
Durante and team manager Henry Menezes also informed that four junior players have been inducted to the side. They are Keegan Pereira (midfielder), Ravelino Fernandes (defender), Ullal Ghosh (defender) and Lihaz Koya (goalkeeper, who was in the India under-20 camp).
Outlining the club's plans for the season, Durante said it will take part in a tournament in the Caribbean Islands in August after signing a deal with Italian sports goods firm El Sporto, who are behind the move to field the club in the tournament.
Mahindra United's signings for 2006-07 season (including 11 internationals):
Goalkeepers: Sandip Nandy, Subhashish Roy Chowdhury and Lihaz Koya.
Defenders: Mahesh Gawli, I Surkumar Singh, Peter Siddiqui, N S Manju, Samson Fernandes, N P Pradeep, Revelino Fernandes, Ullal Gosh.
Defenders/medios: Rauf Khan, K Ajayan and Sushanth Mathew.
Medios: S Venkatesh, Steven Dias, James Singh, Nicholas Rodrigues, Bhola Dey and Keegan Pereira.
Medios/strikers: Chiman Apparao and Humair Rahimtula.
Strikers: Abhishek Yadav, Craig D'Souza, Mohd Rafi, Adnan Rahimtula and Yusif Yakubu.