What happens when some of the biggest names in cricket, Hollywood, business and football get together? The Indian Super League! From the moment of its conceptualization three years ago, there was an air of positive expectation from India’s sporting fans. And when news began to pour in about the interests shown by the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Ranbir Kapoor, among others, football fans around the country knew that the ISL would be no ordinary league, but would be an extravaganza — a mini-carnival of the brightest footballing talent from around the world. ISL 2014 did not disappoint. And as we begin another new season, we are waiting with a confident expectation that it won’t be just another great league, but will unearth bright young talent that will take the country forward. And while that happens, here are a few players, young and old, known and unknown, that you need to watch out for this Indian Super League.
FC Pune City
At 29, time may be running out for Eugeneson Lyngdoh, but this Shillong man is making the best use of the opportunities presented to him. As he will be playing for Hrithik Roshan’s franchisee this ISL, the strikers will be looking forward to partnering him, as this Meghalayan is known for his abilities to create space and chances, providing perfect assists to his frontline. It would however be a big risk to ignore his goal-scoring abilities as well, as he is not someone who’d miss out on chances near the goal. It’s not for nothing that he was named ‘Best Indian Player’ by the Footballer Players’ Association of India (FPAI), recently.
Gustavo dos Santos Marmentini
In Gustavo dos Santos Marmentini, the Delhi Dynamos found the perfect man to lead their ISL campaign in 2014. A relative unknown when he was bought by the franchisee that represents the National Capital, the Brazilian made sure he was a household name by the end of the tournament with his five goals last season. While he couldn’t find the back of the net with the Brazilian powerhouse Atletico Paranaense, his experience with the Latin American club will be worth its weight in gold. Still only 21, Gustavo’s typical Brazilian flair while leaving defenders dumbstruck by his nutmegs will be a treat not just for Delhi fans, but connoisseurs of football in general. Only a few inches separated his effort from driving Delhi into the semi-finals in 2014 as his shot hit the bar in the dying seconds of the last game. This winger might well want to ensure his team’s entry into the semi-finals and beyond, this season!
Atlético de Kolkata
He might be 33 years of age and probably in the twilight of his career, but if champions Atlético de Kolkata have retained him for the 2015 season, then it is with a good reason. He was the very first signing of the league in 2014, and he didn’t disappoint. In the very first game, he scored one of the goals of the season playing against Mumbai City FC. That was to be his only goal that season, but his contributions could not be ignored by the champions. The Spanish midfielder led the ISL table as far as tackles are concerned. The defensive midfielder was like a wall, protecting his defence but at the same time building attacks for his forwardline. His intelligence, experience and eye for finding the right passes at the right time will be something that his team would be banking on, and with the introduction of the experienced Hélder Postiga and Iain Hume as strikers, Atlético would be a real threat this time as well!
Mumbai City FC
He is called India’s Spiderman for a reason. Subrata Paul has been India’s man guarding the post since 2007. While he has had noteworthy competitors vying for this spot, consistent performances from Paul has ensured that he has kept the competition at bay. The first Indian goalkeeper to play abroad and that too for a first-division squad in Europe is a testimony to the ability of this 28-year-old. While he couldn’t ensure Mumbai City FC’s qualification to the semi-finals last year with some big losses going against the side, some of his saves saved Mumbai a lot of times. Somebody who is not afraid to go after the aerial ball and crosses, the dream forwardline of Nicolas Anelka-Sunil Chhethri will depend on his experience and acrobatic saves to keep them in the hunt for the title.
If there was one defender who made heads turn, it was this centreback who played for Sachin Tendulkar’s boys last season. While Kerala Blasters have not retained many, they ensured that Sandesh Jhingan was first among those who were. This 6 feet 2 inch tall defender from Punjab was the backbone of Kerala Blaster’s defence, which incidentally was the best in the league. Not afraid to take on renowned forwards, he would go for crucial tackles and slides to block, even with a risk of a possible penalty looming large. The height advantage also enables him to win aerial challenges in some dangerous areas. That perhaps was why many European clubs wanted trials with him, including some clubs from Spain and Denmark. He was named Emerging Player of the Year in ISL by the All Indian Football Federation in 2014, and was awarded the ‘Best Indian Player’ of ISL by FPAI. Watch out for this 22-year-old. He could be a future Indian captain, and possibly, I dare say, a top-division European league player! He is the future of Indian football.
Blessen Varghese is a sports enthusiast who once harboured thoughts of being a cricketer. He did his post-graduate diploma in Journalism from XIC, Mumbai, following which he worked as a Corporate Communications professional.