The Indian Super League 2016 Preview!
This October the great football festival returns to India, as the Indian Super League bandwagon rolls out for its third edition. The League, started back in 2013 with the aim of increasing the popularity of football in India, is sure to bring once again its own share of thrills, spills and drama, as passion for the beautiful game hits fever pitch.
Like the previous two seasons, eight teams will contest for the crown of champions, after the Top 4 from the League stage qualify for the semi-finals. The League stage begins with the curtain-raiser between NorthEast United and Kerala Blasters on October 1, and closes with the final on December 18.
Last year’s winners Chennaiyin FC begin their campaign with a visit to 2014 winners Atletico de Kolkata. Having snapped up the impressive John Arne Riise from Delhi Dynamos as their marquee player to strengthen their backline ahead of their title defence, Chennaiyin will miss last year’s top scorer and talisman Stiven Mendoza. Nonetheless, the franchise co-owned by Abhishek Bachchan and MS Dhoni has retained the likes of Marco Materazzi (Head Coach) and Bernard Mendy. Jeje Lalpekhlua, Indian football’s hottest property currently, will lead the Indian contingent for Chennaiyin. As for Atletico, there is a change in the dugout with the arrival of Jose Molina, who will be looking to his star strikers Helder Postiga and Iain Hume for goals, and the experienced Arnab Mondal to keep it tight at the back. Winners in 2014 and semi-finalists in 2015, expectations for Atletico will be sky-high again, as Kolkata’s football crazy public will surely flock to pack their new home, the 22,000-capacity Rabindra Sarobar Stadium, to the brim.
Mumbai City FC have grabbed headlines with the signing 2010 World Cup Golden Ball winner Diego Forlan. Alongside Indian captain Sunil Chhetri, City hope Forlan can provide the firepower they need to propel them to the title, following the disappointment of last year’s 6th place finish. Local rivals FC Pune City seem to be facing something of a crisis even before their campaign gets underway, with injuries to marquee player Eiður Guðjohnsen and Andre Bikey ending their chances of involvement. Coach Antonio López Habas hopes he can count on the likes of Jonatan Jucca, Jesus Tato and ‘keeper Bete Edel in what is already looking like an uphill battle, as they look to improve on successive second-to-bottom finishes.
FC Goa have retained services of Brazilian defender Lucio, who joins seven other of his compatriots to give the side a distinct Samba flavor, something manager Zico will no doubt be looking to use to his advantage. The only manager in the league not to change teams, the former Brazilian striker also has exciting Indian talent such as Mandar Rao Desai on his roster, who will benefit from his recent training stint with Villarreal. After the agony of two late goals in last year’s final, fans expect the Goans to lick their wounds and go one better.
Owned by former Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, Kerala Blasters have seen it all in the ISL. From the dizzying heights of the 2014 season, where they were finalists, they came crashing back down to earth with last season’s rock bottom finish. A squad headlined by marquee signing Aaron Hughes also includes retained stars Antonio German and Josue. Mohammed Rafique and Mehtab Hossain will be looking to guide the young Indian players in what looks like a squad brimming with talent. Their rivals on the opening day, NorthEast United, will once again rely heavily on their supporters, who act almost as a twelfth man in home games at their stadium in Guwahati. The signing of Didier Zokora, Ivory Coast’s highest-capped player, has seen a muted response from the home support, but he was impressive last season for FCPC. Besides Zokora, manager Nelo Vingada knows what to expect from custodian Rehenesh, who was reasonably impressive between the sticks for NorthEast last season.
Capital club Delhi Dynamos will be looking to improve on last year’s semi-final finish. They have retained the services of marquee player Florent Malouda, who alongside Marcelo Leite and Ibrahima Niasse heads a deadly attacking trident. Anas Edathodika, one of the finds of the 2015 season, will be looking to step up after the departure of his defensive partner John Arne Riise. In the dugout, former Juventus, Barcelona and Milan star Gianluca Zambrotta prepares to take charge in only his second club as manager.
The way things are shaping up in the Indian Super League makes for a fascinating watch. With the season just about ready for kick-off, new players and managers have seen shake-ups for all clubs as they continue their preparations for the campaign. Whatever the outcome, Indian fans can hardly wait for the new season to begin, with one chant on all of their lips – Come on India, let’s Football!