The third season of the Hero ISL season starts on October 1, 2016. The eight participating teams have been busy in preparation for the new season with a slew of signings being made and teams playing friendly matches in India and overseas. Interestingly though, this season has seen teams investing in local talent more than trying to lure big names. Lets take a look at how each team fairs ahead of the new season
Atletico de Kolkata
Jose Fransisco Molina has taken over the reigns of management after Antonio Lopez Habas, whom Sourav Ganguly had described as being the heartbeat of the team, left earlier in the year. A former goalkeeper for Spain and Atletico Madrid, Molina will have to live up to the consistency that Habas brought to the team over the past two seasons. ATK also have to adjust to playing in a new home stadium with the majestic Salt Lake undergoing renovation for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup. They would hope that marquee player Helder Postiga remains fit after the former Portuguese international had to be stretchered off in last season’s opening fixture.
The defending champions will have to make do without John Stiven Mendoza in attack and influential marquee player and captain Elano, who now plays for boyhood club Santos in Brazil. Manager Marco Materazzi won’t be too worried though as Chennaiyin have been able to lure Jeje Lapekhlua to the fold. Jeje was last season’s top Indian goalscorer. Fans will also be hoping to see a typical John Arne Riise free kick goal as the marquee player plays in his second ISL season.
Mumbai City FC
Mumbai City grabbed the headlines when they managed to sign Uruguay and Atletico Madrid legend Diego Forlan. Forlan was Uruguay’s all-time highest goalscorer untill 2013 when the mantle was taken by Luis Suarez. Mumbai have also been able to retain Sunil Chettri. They have a new manager in the form of Alexandre Guimares after Nicolas Anelka failed to make any impact last season as player manager. The team has looked strong and returned home unbeaten after their pre-season tour of the UAE. Guimares is Mumbai’s third manager in three seasons and the owners will be hoping that this one won’t be a repetition of the displays the team had put up in the last two editions of the tournament.
FC Pune City
FC Pune City, like their Maharashtra rivals, made a big splash in the ocean when they signed former Finland captain Eidur Gudjohnsen. Unlike Diego Forlan though, Gudjohnsen has already limped back to his country with an ankle injury. Add to that the knock that midfielder Andre Bikey has suffered and Pune seem to be dealing with an injury crisis even before the season has started. All this poses a challenge to manager Antonio Lopez Habas who will look to replicate his Atletico de Kolkata record and try to improve Pune City’s fortunes after their rather forgettable first two seasons in the ISL.
Manager Zico has been able to keep his core team intact, most notably resigning captain and marquee player Lucio. Goa has also invested in a slew of Indian players this season like Subhashish Roy Chowdhury, Denzil Franco and Robin Singh. They have been one of the most consistent sides in the ISL and will look to have a go at the title after finishing in the semi finals in 2014 and as runners-up in 2015. They have a tendency to switch off during important parts of the match, such as in the finals last season against Chennaiyin FC where they conceded two goals in injury time. If they can address that, FC Goa might just turn out to be third time lucky this year.
Manager Gianluca Zambrotta has made it clear that Delhi are only looking to win the league this season. The Dynamos have put up some impressive displays in their pre season friendlies including a valiantly fought 1-0 defeat to Premier League side West Bromwich Albion. Marquee signing Florent Maloudaa looks to be in good touch and the Dynamos might just have a chance of going beyond the semi finals this season.
North East United
North East United’s home stadium is the venue for the opening ceremony of ISL 2016. Interestingly the winners of the last two ISL editions, Chennaiyin and ATK, had the opening ceremonies at their respective home grounds. North East have most notably added goalkeeper Subrata Paul and marquee player Didier Zokora to their ranks. They narrowly missed out on a semi final berth last season and will be looking to not let it slip away this time.
The 2014 runners up had a disastrous second season and finished bottom of the table last year. Terry Phelan, who filled in as manager last season after Peter Taylor was sacked, has returned tto being the technical director for the team’s grassroots program and Steve Copell is the new man at the helm. Northern Irish defender Aaron Hughes is the marquee player for the Blasters.