Indian Super League Review

League Poster for the 2020/2021 season

As 2021 is just beginning, we are already half way through the Indian Super League season and what a fantastic season it’s been so far. Despite setbacks due to the Covid-19 pandemic and no fans in stadiums, it has not seized the quality of football on the pitch with 20 goals scored in first two weeks of football.

But now feels like a good time to reflect on the season, with 13 games played so far for most teams and a few games remaining.

Background

For those of you who may not be familiar with the league, the way it is set up is very similar to that of MLS. There are 11 teams in the league, with no promotion or relegation.

The season starts in November and lasts until late February or early March, with clubs playing against each other twice. Once at home and once away. Whoever has the most points at the end of the season wins the league. However, after the league stage finishes, the top four teams of that season progress to the finals. The semi-finals are played in a two-legged format, where both sides will play each other in their home venues. The team that leads on aggregate after the two matches, will move on to the final. The final is then a one-off match which is held at a neutral ground, with the winner bring crowned champions and taking home the shield.

When it comes to the Indian Super League, they adopt a very similar style and approach to MLS. There is no promotion or relegation and the way in which clubs become part of the league is to be awarded expansion after bidding to enter.

Indian football dates as far back as the eighteenth century, however it was in 1996 when they created a proper league system, going by the name of National Football League from 1996 till 2007. It was in 2007 in an effort to rebrand and revamp the league that the name was changed to the I-League. However there have been issues with the league since then.

In 2010 the All India Football Federation signed a 15-year deal with a company by the name of Reliance Industries and International Management Group. The deal gave IMG-Reliance exclusive commercial rights to sponsorship, advertising, broadcasting, merchandising, video, franchising, and rights to create a new football league. Naturally I-League clubs were not happy over the fact that IMG-Reliance had done nothing to promote the I-League, that they were placing emphasis on money and expansion, wanting to change the whole layout of the league and modernising the game in a negative way. So some clubs demanded the I-League be made a separate entity from both the AIFF and IMG-Reliance. So it was in 2013 that IMG-Reliance created a new league (alongside the I-League) called the ‘Indian Super League’ with some clubs joining from I-League.

For the first three seasons of the Indian Super League, the competition operated without official recognition from the governing body for football in Asia, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), and FIFA, the world governing body. In 2014, then FIFA General Secretary Jérôme Valcke stated that the world governing body only recognized the ISL as a tournament, not a league. The official league for football in India remained the I-League. A couple weeks later, the AIFF proposed that both the Indian Super League and I-League run simultaneously on a short–term basis with the I-League winner qualifying for the AFC Champions League and the AFC Cup qualification spot going to the ISL champion.

For the Indian Super League a season only lasted 3 months, with it running from October to December and most matches being held daily. However, in the 2017–18 season, the league expanded to ten teams and changed its schedule to six months. This in turn earned recognition from the AFC, so the ISL is now seen as a league

Still to this day, there are issues and tensions between both leagues. Despite this, there are hopes that both leagues can sit down and be civil with each other to look at a possible merger in the future. The idea to showcase to the world the talent and entertainment that is Indian Football.

Current Season

At the time of writing, the Indian Super League is just over half way through it’s season. So let me give you the insight of each teams season so far in order of table position:

1) Mumbai City

Won: 9 Drawn: 2 Lost: 1 Form: WDWWW

It’s all positive for Mumbai City so far this season. Currently top of the league with a 5 point cushion, leading the league with most goals scored and leading the league with the least amount of goals conceded, it’s easy to see why the Cityzens are some of the happiest amongst ISL supporters.

This is the best ever start to a season for the club since it was founded in 2014. With City Football Group now owning a majority share of the club, it’s easy to notice the financial backing the club has had. Bringing in Sergio Lobera as the new manager for this 20/21 season, the Spaniard has 27 years of experience after managing various Spanish sides. Including the likes of Barcelona’s youth and C team, Las Palmas and an assistant role with Barcelona’s main team in 2012. Sergio knows the league well after spending three years as manager for Western Derby rivals, FC Goa.

This experience and pedigree is clearly baring fruit to Mumbai as they are currently in fantastic form heading past the half way point of season.

But it’s not just a matter of who is at the helm for Mumbai City, as the squad also need to believe in the managers vision. In the off-season, Mumbai made numerous high-profile transfers and loans for the 20/21 season. One of the marquee signings was that of Adam Le Fondre, who is currently on loan from Sydney FC. His name may sound familiar to those who know English football. Adam played for the likes of Rochdale, Rotherham, Cardiff, Reading and Bolton, before choosing to make a long trip over the world to join Sydney in 2018. In his two season with Sydney, he scored a very impressive 47 goals in 67 appearances. So it’s clear to see why Mumbai were interested in securing his services. With 6 goals in 9 appearances so far for the cityzens, he has been instrumental to their attack.

Mumbai also acquired Bartholomew Ogbeche from Kerala blasters. Bartholomew has experience of playing in India for the last two years, for NorthEast United where he scored 12 in 19 apps and for Kerala Blasters where he had 15 goals in 16 apps.

It’s looking good so far for Mumbai who will want to keep putting in good performances if they want to keep a gap between themselves and ATK Mohun Bagan. They did look slightly sluggish in their game against Hyderabad however, you can argue they showed their quality in defending against a very direct attack, with Amrinder Singh having a good game in goal.

Mumbai have never won the ISL and should use this as motivation to continue their momentum.

2) ATK Mohun Bagan

Won: 7 Drawn: 3 Lost: 2 Form: WDLWD

Mohun Bagan are one of the oldest football clubs in the history of Indian Football and are also one of the with the most devastated clubs in terms of silverware. It’s the clubs first season in the Indian Super League after merging with club ATK FC in 2020. Thus creating it’s name, ATK Mohun Bagan and gaining expansion to the Indian Super League. Prior to this merger Mohun Bagan were playing in the I-League where they finished first in their last season.

They have started their inaugural season well, finding themselves in 2nd place currently. Scoring 12 goals in 12 games, it is clear that their strength lies in attack with players such as Roy Krishna leading the way with 6 goals for the mariners side. Although in the last 2/3 games, they’ve struggled to create chances and opportunities. The side did show great character to win earlier in the week 1-0 against Chennaiyin in the last moments of the game whilst down to 10 men.

I feel there is more to come with The Mariners. They’ve certainly got the talent and efficiency to pick up a gear and start chasing after Mumbai. Roy Krishna will be crucial to them, but they need other attacking players such as Manvir Singh? David Williams and Edu García to pick up pace. Overall ATK Mohun Bagan are doing incredibly well and supporters should be proud of how the team are doing in their inaugural season with a mix of players from their previous clubs. They have only lost two games this season, with one coming to title challengers Mumbai and one to Jamshedpur, a game they feel like they should’ve won. But they would do well not to fall into a slump as FC Goa are close behind them.

3) FC Goa

Won: 5 Drawn: 5 Lost: 3 Form: DDWDW

Founded in 2014, ‘The Gaurs’ as they are nicknamed (Gaur is a type of Bison), have enjoyed relative success since their creation. Finishing 2nd and 1st respectively in their first two seasons and winning the most recent 19/20 season.

At their inception, FC Goa had Brazilian footballing legend Zico as head coach for two years. Although things didn’t work out immediately for Zico, he slowly started putting his imprint onto the side. Zico had brought in ex Arsenal and Villarreal winger, Robert Pires to be their marquee signing for the inaugural season. However given the fact Pires was 41 at the time, he struggled to adapt to the pace and style of play of Indian football.

A particularly notable acquisition he obtained was a then 22 year old Romeo Fernandes on loan, who was a native Goan. His consistent and impressive performances led to him becoming a fan favourite and it wasn’t long before interest started coming in from across the world, with Brazilian side Atletico Paranaense acquiring him on loan. Fernandes was the first Indian to play senior football in South America.

Under previous manager Sergio Lobera, FC Goa were a force to reckoned with. Playing high intense attacking football, they had Ferran Corominas Telechea (Known as Coro to his teammates) in magnificent form. Scoring 55 goals in his 64 appearances for the side. A key man in leading them to their first ever ISL title and winners shield. Despite this success, FC Goa let Lobera go after failing to win the elusive ISL trophy, after which he left to join west coast rivals Mumbai City.

This season FC Goa have shown signs of finding the same attacking prowess as last season. Netting 18 times in the 13 games played. However they have been vulnerable at the back. Conceding 13 in 13 games, which counteracts the work their doing in front of goal and has often led to games ending in a draw. This is one of FC Goa’s problems this season, they’ve drawn 5 so far and if they want to emulate the success of last season then they need to ensure they take all three points. Especially when they are trailing behind title contenders Mumbai City and ATK Mohun Bagan.

However, there has been progress and signs of revitalisation over their last 5 games. Accumulating 12 points out of a possible 18, to make sure they stay in contention of a title chase. But the gaurs need to capitalise on their chances and look to improve defensively. I don’t feel like FC Goa are out of contention yet and will give the teams above them a fierce contest. FC Goa’s remaining games are all against lower ranked sides and they should do well to accumulate as many points against these ‘weaker’ clubs, particularly before they play Mumbai City at the start of February

4) Hyderabad FC

Won: 4 Drawn: 6 Lost: 3 Form: DDDWW

In 2019 football team Pune City were struggling financially and that the club owners were looking to sell the franchise. Behind on paying players as well as other internal issues, the club had tried to look at all possible solutions to save the team. But unfortunately at the end of the season, Pune City released all of their players and the team was disbanded.

For a while things looked bleak until former Kerala Blasters CEO Varun Tripuraneni bought a majority stake in the club. With this money was starting to flow back into the club, however with the new ownership came new beginnings and changes. It was announced that Hyderabad would replace Pune City for the 2019–20 season, with Tripuraneni and businessman Vijay Madduri buying rights to the franchise.

It was announced that Phil Brown, who had been the coach of Pune City in their last season as a club, was to be the first head coach for Hyderabad. Before the start of their new season, it was revealed that Hyderabad had signed almost every player from Pune City’s final squad.

The new idea and marketing for Hyderabad was perfect in boardrooms, meetings and interviews. However, in the clubs first season as the Nizams, the club in last place in the table. Registering just one win and two draws from 12 matches, it was inevitable that Phil Brown and the club parted ways. That season, the club finished in last place and failed to qualify for the ISL playoffs.

Following on from acting as interim coach for the remainder of Hyderabad’s inaugural season, Xavier Gurri López has remainder with the Nizams. So far there has been a vast improvement on last year. Finishing in any position above dead last is an achievement for the side and they can be proud of what they’ve accomplished this far.

There are moments of brilliance from Hyderabad and moments of disbelief. It is clear that there is a decent team here, with undoubtedly talented players and attractive attacking football. However, it is understandable that it going to take a while for the team to develop cohesiveness and gel properly with each other. Lopez seems to have steadied the ship for now, but they need to ensure that they can turn this draws into wins if they want to qualify for the playoffs.

5) NorthEast United

Won: 3 Drawn: 6 Lost: 3 Form: WDLLD

Founded six years ago, owned by a Bollywood actor and almost cut off from the rest of country with Bangladesh and Nepal geographically in the way. The idea of developing the club, was so that north eastern states of India such as Assam, Tripura, Manipur and Nagaland had a football team which they could be affiliated with. Representation in the north eastern tip of India is hard to come by, with football fans choosing either to support regional or I-league sides Shillong Lajong or Aizwal FC. However with the formation of NorthEast United and winning expansion to ISL, fans of these regions could look forward to seeing a team in the top division and with a global audience.

It’s been a difficult few years for NEU since their inauguration in 2014, finishing at the bottom half of the table. In their first season, they finished 8th out of 8, then finished 5th two consecutive seasons after that. Their worst and most unforgettable year was that of the 17/18 season where Abram Grant was in charge after taking over for Spanish coach, João de Deus. With so much expectation and excitement about having such an experienced manager in charge of their club, NorthEast United fans could be forgiven for being optimistic. However this was not to be and NEU finished rock bottom of the league in 10th out of 10 teams.

There were signs of improvement after this with Eelco Schattorie taking over at the helm and leading his side to their highest ever finish of 4th place out of 10 teams. Bartholomew Ogbeche being a big reason for that, with netting 12 goals for the side. They even made the quarter-finals in the super cup, which was a huge achievement for the highlanders.

Despite that brief successive season, they once again fell victim to their own wrongdoings, finishing 9th out 10. Even with proven goal scorer Asamoah Gyan in the side.

However with the turn of the decade, should come a turn of luck and focus. NorthEast United have looked much better this season, improving greatly on last years performances. In the opening game of the 20/21 season they won 1-0 against title challengers Mumbai City, in what was seen as a shock result. They are one of the leagues best attacking sides, scoring 15 goals in the 13 matches they’ve played, ranking fifth amongst other clubs. Despite this attacking threat, they have leaked goals at the back, conceding 16 goals.

They have recently departed with Spanish coach, Gerard Nus. This was quite surprising for most as Nus had started the campaign with the highlanders quite well and with a weak squad, was still grinding out results. But after 11 games they have decided to part ways. This is quite concerning as NorthEast United have always spoken about building a vision and philosophy at the club. But how can they do that when they have 9 managers in 7 seasons?

With a win and a draw in their last two games, the highlanders need to strive to maintain some kind of form and momentum. They have drawn 6 games this season, which for some, could have easily been wins. It’s here where NEU need to look for improvement. The attacking department clearly needs no improvement with strikers Kwesi Appiah and Luis Machado finding the net. It ultimately comes down to defence which during the off-season, the eastern side definitely need to improve. Moreover, we can find some positive in that they currently sit 5th in the league, despite all the draws. They just need to be mindful that a slip in form again could mean sinking as low down as 9th place, with there only being 3 points separating 5 sides.

6) Chennaiyin

Won: 3 Drawn: 6 Lost: 4 Form: LDWDL

In their short tenure in the Indian Super League, the Marina Machans have seen success in two seasons. Those being in 2015 and in 2017. The Chennai side started their inaugural season with Italian World Cup winner Marco Materazzin being hired as a player-manager. He brought in Italian teammate Alessandro Nesta as well for that season as they sought to take the league by storm. And storm they did, Chennaiyin finished in first place in the league. However they lost in the semi-finals.

In their third season, they signed John Arne Riise as their marquee player. But despite this signing, the side had a dismal season and eventually Marco Materazzi and Chennaiyin parted ways.

From 2017-2019 former Aston Villa manager, John Gregory took over as head coach. During this time Chennaiyin arguably played their best ever attacking football and found success in winning the title and also became the first Indian Super league team to play in the AFC cup. The team performed admirably on the continental stage and could be proud of their performances when they reached the group stages. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the romantic end that Chennaiyin had hoped for and things then took a turn for the worst following in from this knockout. After the loss, the club made some shocking and frankly outlandish decision, which invoked releasing their club captain Mailson Alves and Raphael Augusto before the start of the 19/20 season. There was also more releases of Indian born players in their team. Seemingly frustrated and angered by this, John Gregory resigned from his position, despite the various attempts from the owner to get him to stay.

Last year saw some improvement for Chennaiyin. As Owen Coyle took over as coach of the club when they were 9th in the league. After a few games and impressive performances, Chennaiyin climbed the table from 9th to 4th, ensuring they qualified for the playoffs. They made it through to the final, but ultimately fell short against ATK Mohun Bagan. Following on from this the league was effected by the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a new season comes a new beginning and that is exactly what the Marina Machans strives for. Appointing Romanian-Hungarian Csaba László as the coach for the 20/21 season.

Similarly to their league counterpart, NorthEast United, Chennaiyin have shown that despite the fact they can score goals, that they concede a lot too. Despite being 6th out of 11 in the league, they are actually the worst side in ISL for goals scored, with even bottom placed Odisha and Kerala scoring more than them. Their lack of attacking threat and poor defence is leading Chennaiyin to either loss games or draw games they should be winning. One of their last games out against East Bengal is evidence enough of that, where despite the Kolkata side being down to 10 men, Chennaiyin were unable to capitalise on this advantage and similarly again this week a gain at ATK Mohun Bagan

“Whoever scores the most, wins the game” to quote Michael Owen, it’s obvious but it is correct. Chennaiyin need forwards Isma, Rahim Ali, Lallianzuala Chhangte and Jakub Sylvestr to find form and find the back of the net. Isma has looked the most dangerous in attack, but requires service from those around him to create something. Chhangte is a highly sought talent, who has had training at Liverpool’s youth academy, trials at Eliteserien club, Viking FK, experience playing senior football for Delhi Dynamos and representing India’s senior team. He may only be 23, but there are a lot of expectations on him to be the creative winger most of us know he can be

7) Bengaluru FC

Won: 3 Drawn: 5 Lost: 5 Form: DLDLL

Established in 2013 and beginning its first competitive season in the I-League the same year, there was great expectations on Bengaluru to become one of India’s best football teams. The club succeeded well in its early days, winning two I-League titles including one in their debut season. They also boast winning two Federation Cup titles, one Indian Super League title and a Super Cup championship. In their 2018/2019 season they became the champions of the Indian Super League after defeating FC Goa in the final.

In their debut season, Bengaluru won the fifth edition of the ISL for the first time. The season brought multiple records, including an 11-game undefeated run in the league and a six-game winning run. They became the first team to finish on top of the regular season twice in succession and the first team to win the title after finishing top in the league phase. In 2019–20, Bengaluru reached the ISL play-offs after finishing third in the league phase, breaking the run in which the defending champions apart from ATK in 2015 failed to reach the top four. Under Cuadrat, Bengaluru set new records in 2019–20, becoming the first team to keep 11 clean sheets. They also scored almost 62% of their goals (15 goals from 24) from them and went on a 17-match unbeaten run at home.

The next season, Bengaluru won their second I-League title, defeating Salgaocar 2–0 at home. The club also advanced further into the AFC Cup, reaching the quarter-finals after defeating Hong Kong team, Kitchee 3–2 in Round 16. Despite the club’s achievement, the then coach, Ashley Westwood left the club at the end of the season with Albert Roca taking over. Before making way to Carles Cuadrat two years later.

This season, the blues had stuck with Carles Cuadrat for the start of their 20/21 season. Cuadrat in his first season with Bengaluru, helped them win the playoffs and finish 1st in the league. Whereas last year, they finished respectably in 3rd and reached the semi finals of the playoffs. Despite this good run with the side, this season has seen the blues run out of steam. They started off their campaign picking up two wins in their first six games and have failed to register another win since then. Only picking up two points since their last win. Currently they are the team with the worst form in the ISL, which is interesting considering they are in 7th place. However, it is understandable that due to this poor form and poor run in the league this far, that Bengaluru parted ways with coach Carles Cuadrat after two years. Reserve coach and former Indian footballer Naushad Moosa has stepped in as interim manager. He has already been forward in stating that Bengaluru need to be realistic in the fact they won’t make playoffs. And is instead focusing on steadying the ship with the blues, in preparation for next season. Goals haven’t been a problem for the side, netting 14 in 13 games. But similarly to the teams around them, defence is an issue. Forwards Sunil Chhetri and Cleiton Silva are doing reasonably well between them, scoring 4 each. But they need the support from their midfield if they want to create chances and start playing more forward attacking football.

8) Jamshedpur

Won: 3 Drawn: 5 Lost: 5 Form: DLLLW

In May 2017, Indian Super League organisers, Football Sports Development, invited bids for two new teams into the league with Jamshedpur winning one of these allocations

For their inaugural season it was announced that Steve Coppell, who led the Kerala Blasters to the final in the previous ISL season would be the first head coach in the teams history. However, by the halfway point of the season, Jamshedpur had only managed two wins in its inaugural season, which also included four draws and three defeats. The club were in 7th place and 6 points off the playoffs. Despite this poor start, things started to change for Jamshedpur as they managed to pick up results and form which lead to the club playing their final match of the Super League season at home against FC Goa. Jamshedpur needed a win in order to qualify for the finals. Unfortunately however, they lost 3-0 despite having home advantage. With this result, it meant that Jamshedpur failed to qualify for the finals in their first season. This normally would not be be so disappointing for expansion teams in their inaugural seasons, but given how close they were, fans was understandably upset and frustrated.

For their 2018/2019 season they appointed Cesar Ferrando as their new head coach and saw a host of changes in the squad and incoming signings. The biggest signing undoubtedly was Australian and former Everton player, Tim Cahill. The team started the season incredibly well, picking up a huge win against Mumbai City and holding fellow expansion side Bengaluru FC to a draw at their own ground. The club was in great form and was in the running to qualify for the play-offs through-out the season, tipped by some to go all the way. However, towards the latter part of the league, Jamshedpur narrowly lost out on the play-off spot to NorthEast United as they finished 5th just like their inaugural season.

With this disappointment of finishing in 5th again. The club brought in Antonio Iriondo as their head coach for the 2019–20 season. Again, Jamshedpur were in contention and battled for the playoffs. But ultimately they fell short for third year in a row and did not qualify for the playoffs.

Heading into this season, the club once again made major changes to their set up as they appointed Owen Coyle to the helm and signed a roster of new foreign and Indian players. Similarly to previous seasons, Jamshedpur are again a mixed bag. It is clear to see the potential that the team has and when they play, their style of football is entertaining and mesmerising to watch. But their downfall is undoubtedly their defence which has allowed 17 goals into the net in the 13 games played. Lithuanian striker Nerijus Valskis has been leading the line in terms of goals scored with 6 for the side so far this season. But he need support from other playmakers around him, such as Aniket Jadhav, Farukh Choudhary and Len Doungel.

Owen Coyle has pedigree and experience as a manger which Jamshedpur would be wise to keep a hold of. They’ve had a new coach nearly every season since they were founded. So stability would go a long way.

9) Kerala Blasters

Won: 3 Drawn: 5 Lost: 5 Form: DWDWL

In April 2014 it was announced that the rights to a franchise and expansion club had been won by former India national cricket team captain Sachin Tendulkarand entrepreneur Prasad V Potlurithe. In May 2014 the club’s official name, Kerala Blasters FC, was announced. The reason for the name is because the club represents not only Kochi, but the whole Kerala’s passion towards football. They chose the name Blasters due to the nickname of Tendulkar being Master Blaster during his playing days as a cricketer.

Their inaugural season in the Indian Super League was in 2014 and the Blasters are considered to be one of the most widely supported clubs in Asia. With one of the largest social media following among the football clubs from the continent. The blasters are known very well due to their fan bases reputation for being one of the most vocal and passionate fan clubs in India. Since their foundation, the Tuskers have held the record for the highest league attendance, regularly attracting audiences of over 40,000 per game

As a mandatory rule, ISL clubs had to sign one international player as a marquee signing. So it was in May 2014 that former England international goalkeeper David James was signed as not only the first head coach of the team but also its marquee player.

After finishing in fourth place during the regular season, the side played their first semi-finals match on 13 December 2014 against Chennaiyin. Despite not being considered the favourite to win the two-legged tie, they won the first leg at home. Despite entering the second leg with a three-goal advantage, Chennaiyin drew the tie level by winning in regular time 3–0. In extra time, however, Kerala scored the decisive goal in the 117th minute to win the tie 4–3 to enter the final which unfortunately they lost in the end to then Mohun Bagan. Following this, David James left the club and former England Under-20 head coach Peter Taylor would take over the manager role but would shortly be dismissed in 2015 season and replaced by Terry Phelan. This managerial in and out would continue from every season until currently.

In their 7 year history, the Tuskers have had a turbulent time in the ISL, despite finishing runners up in 2014 and 2016. The fanbase are as passionate as they come and undoubtedly deserve better than what they’ve seen on the pitch. With that, this 2020-21 season, management decided to build a new strategy at the club. Part of this included appointing Karolis Skinkys as their new sporting director and announced the appointment of Spaniard, Kibu Vicuña as their new manager. The club have also looked towards a new philosophy, which involves looking to rely more upon young Indian players and develop youth talent.

This season so far the positive changes and ambitions set out at the start haven’t quite come to fruition, but there are signs of a good team despite their league position. The Tuskers has a poor start to the season, taking 7 games to register their first win and haven’t lost a game in 3 fixtures currently. Australian forward Jordan Murray has been vital to the side, netting 6 times in 12 appearances for the club. As well as Englishman Gary Hooper and 20 year old Rahul K.P. netting twice, with the later just sealing a vital three points for the team with a 94th minute penalty to win the game 2-1 after coming from behind.

I have no concerns with the attack who seem to be finding their feet and scoring boots in recent games , but my issue lies in the blasters defence. The club have conceded the most goals in the league despite bottom places Odisha only winning 1 game. With 21 goals against, Vicuña needs to have a look at his defence and see where changes need to be made. The Tuskers would do well to keep ahold of the coach into next season and create some stability at the club, as they have had 9 coaches in their short history. It is clear Vicuña’s experience coaching and being assistant manager is baring development. The Spaniard needs time to have his imprint on the club but the signs are positive.

10) East Bengal

Won: 2 Drawn: 6 Lost: 5 Form: LDDWD

Founded in August 1920, the club is one of the oldest in Indian football. East Bengal won their first league title in 1942 and have since gone on to win the title a record 39 times. The club boast many other accolades including winning the national football league title three times, winning the federation cup eight times, three super cups, a record of 29 IFA shield titles and 16 Durand cup titles. All of these awards and trophies make East Bengal the most decorated in Indian football.

The club is mainly supported by the immigrant population from the eastern region of Bengal (known as Bangal), who were forced to leave their homes during the partition of 1947. In dark and difficult times, people looking for hope and for most of that immigration population they found it in East Bengal. However, this large influx of people into the state led to a socio-economic crisis. Due to this, tensions within the state were at an all time high and it led to rivalries among the immigrant population and native population of West Bengal. This was in various elements of life such as jobs, business, to schools and even on football pitches. So since the 1950’s there has been a large and long-standing rivalry between Easy Bengal and its cross-town competitors Mohun Bagan (now ATK Mohun Bagan), which is mainly supported by the native population. This rich and fierce rivalry is known as the Kolkata Derby when the teams play on the pitch and is Asia’s biggest football rivalry.

Despite COVID-19 grinding most things to a halt in life, including football. Theclub celebrated its 100 year existence and history. In September 2020, Shree Cement was announced as the new investor of the club, which meant their company acquired 76 percent of the shares. With that, they renamed the club from “East Bengal Football Club” to “Sporting Club East Bengal”. Later that month, after successful bidding, the club moved from the I-League to the Indian Super League.

After finishing 2nd in I-League for the 19/20 season and earning expansion to the Indian Super League, there was a lot of expectation on the red and gold brigade to do well in their inaugural season. However, that has not come to fruition as of yet. East Bengal are a side with a rich history and know what it means to be champions, with three title winning season. But they can’t seem to find the same form they had when they were in the I-League. For the last 10 years, East Bengal have always finished high up in the table, usually in 2nd or the occasional 3rd/4th position. Despite bringing in experienced footballer Robbie Fowler as head coach for the start of this season, things haven’t quite worked out yet for the Liverpool born coach. Prior to the start of the season, East Bengal were very active in the transfer market. The club signed over 20 Indian players with many signing long-term contracts and being assigned to the reserve team. However, they had a lot of outgoings as well with club top scorers for the 19/20 season Marcos de la Espada, Jaime Santos and Bidyashagar Singh all exiting.

It took 8 games for East Bengal to register their first win of the 20/21 season and since then have picked up some slightly better form. Drawing their next game after that to FC Goa, where they put in a great defensive display after seeing Danny Fox sent off for a straight red in the 56th minute. The brigadiers then picked up their second win against Bengaluru before drawing their last two. So there are signs of improvement for the club and in fairness, they are only 3 points away from being in 5th (depending on other results). So there is scope and time still for East Bengal to find form and find the vigour and fight they have shown in their 121 year history. However the face a tough battle on 22nd January against league leaders Mumbai City

11) Odisha FC

Won: 1 Drawn: 5 Lost: 7 Form: DDDLW

Odisha FC, formally known as Delhi Dynamos up until the 2019/2020 season, are a side who are expected to be up towards the top end of the table. However, that has certainly not been the case for this 2020/2021 season, with most supporters probably wanting to turn offs their TV’s.

When they were known as Delhi Dynamos, their inaugural campaign in the Indian Super League season started in 2014. They did not experience the best of starts to their campaign as they remained a bottom placed team until 9th Round. However, towards the mid point of the season, the team regrouped and found their feet as they finished the season in 5th place with a five match unbeaten run. The Dynamos narrowly missed out on qualification for the semi-finals falling short only by a point.

In their first season as Odisha FC in 2019, the side had a slow and poor start in the league. Towards the latter part of the season things did improve somewhat with six wins, four draws and five losses to end the season at the 6th spot with 25 points on the league. At the start of 2020 however, Odisha parted ways with Josep Gombau due to personal reasons and for the start of the 20/21 season, they hired Stuart Baxter as manager.

This season has not been good at all for Odisha. Despite Diego Maurício scoring 5 goals so far, there are no other creative outlets performing to a good standard. The second highest goal scorer for the side is former Newcastle player and defender, Steven Taylor with 2 goals.

The obvious issue with the juggernauts is that they are conceding more than they are scoring. Their defence is poor, along with the attack. So manager Stuart Baxter has got his work cut out with the side. But there were signs in their most game against Hyderabad FC of improvement and fight in the side. Although the game ended as a draw, the Kalinga Warriors could have easily won it in the second half with an impressive and energetic attacking display. If Stuart can get that from his team again in their upcoming match against Bengaluru on Sunday, then hopefully this can kickstart some form going into the final stretch of games.

Where to watch

If you’re interested in watching Indian Super League then recently more coverage has been shown on UK TV’s.

FreeSportsTV have picked up broadcasting rights to show games. Whilst it isn’t always consistent and you can’t watch every game, you can usually catch 2 or 3 ISL games a week. Some betting websites like BET365 also show coverage of ISL games however this is without commentary.

If you’ve missed any action and want to watch game highlights, then you can do so for free on the Indian Super League’s YouTube channel which is in English.

Most games have around a 2pm kick off time in the UK, with a lot of games being played during the week. So perfect for those days where you’re craving football around lunchtime, especially for those of you who are having to remain at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Additional

If you’re interested in learning more about Indian football and are an avid reader, then I can’t recommend these two books enough:

Barefoot to Boots: The Many Lives of Indian Football | https://www.abebooks.co.uk/9780143426417/Barefoot-Boots-0143426419/plphttps://www.abebooks.co.uk/9780143426417/Barefoot-Boots-0143426419/plp

India’s Football Dream | https://www.amazon.co.uk/Indias-Football-Dream-Shantanu-Gupta/dp/9353283051

Published by Charlotte Patterson

25 | #SAFC and #OCSC | Football Enthusiast | Asian Football Writer for @footballCFB ⚽️

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