The third season of the Indian Super League (ISL) kicks off today with North East United taking on Kerala Blasters. In all probability, this will be the final version of the tournament in its current avatar, considering that it might become the premier Indian league spanning across 8 months next year onwards. A few key points from this season
Players from 4 continents
79 players, 24 countries. The eight franchises have used their agent networks to proper use, attracting players (except marquees) from every continent except Oceana. Brazil (21) has highest representation, just like the previous season, owing to a tie-up with their first-division side Atletico Paranaense. Seven of them have been signed by Goa, which isn’t a surprise as Zico has chosen to sign players he knows with the help of Beto, former Brazilian player who played in the I-League and is now an agent himself. Spain (14) has the second-most players while 11 players are from Africa, which has been India’s hunting ground for players for I-League.
Musical chairs for coaches
Out of the eight teams, six will have new coaches. Only Chennaiyin FC (Marco Materazzi) and FC Goa (Zico) have retained their coaches while the rest chose to replace their managers during the off season. Pune City managed a coup of sorts by luring the highly-animated, and successful, Antonio Habas from Atletico Kolkata, who hired another Spaniard and former Villarreal manager Jose Francisco Molina. Delhi replaced one high-profile manager, Roberto Carlos, with another, Gianluca Zambrotta while Kerala Blasters have got former Reading manager and Portsmouth’s director of football Steve Coppell.
Jet-setting the world
Unlike the past, where hurriedly-assembled and undercooked teams were fielded by many, all teams go into this season fully preapared with at least a month-long pre-season under their belts. All teams jet-setted to various corners of the world to prepare for the ISL. Delhi Dynamos became the first Indian club to play a friendly against an English Premier League side when they faced West Brom Albion last month. Zico used his reputation in Brazil to get his side decent exposure with a camp in Rio while Pune trained in Madrid. Mumbai City warmed up against some of the top clubs from the Gulf along with North East United.
Toss-up between Chennai, Goa
Last year’s finalists Chennaiyin and Goa will once again be the top contenders, mainly because of the continuity factor. Materazzi and Zico have been at the ISL since the beginning and understand the nature of tournament. Both teams have retained their core group while making crucial additions. Going by the pre-seasons, Delhi and Mumbai too look stable units, but Mumbai will be without some of their key players, including Sunil Chhetri, for the first 20 days of the league.