How Have the ISL Marquee Players Performed This Season – Part II

The Bottom Dwellers Mumbai City FC and Northeast United FC

The first part of this series was all about the two best performing teams in the Indian Super League i.e. the champions Atletico De Kolkata and the runners up Kerala Blasters FC. In the second part, we will focus on the two worst performing teams i.e. Mumbai City FC and Northeast United FC.

Despite having a team with three different special stars, Mumbai City FC couldn’t perform in the league and the reason was twofold. First was that the fitness of two of those three stars was in question and the second was that they couldn’t build a team around those stars.

Mumbai City FC is also a prime example of how a team that looks good on paper may not perform so well on the pitch.

The second team covered in this post is Northeast United FC. There final position in the table is far more understandable than that of Mumbai City FC. They didn’t have the kind of funds that the bigwigs of the league enjoyed.

Moreover, their focus was more on building a team than building a team around individual stars. That is a long term task and the results of that can’t be expected in a period of three months.

The players have to train with each other and play with each other so they can get an understanding of how each of them makes runs, positions himself, passes, or crosses.

As is natural, the performances of the ISL marquee players of these teams are similar to the performances of their teams or vice versa. Consider.

Mumbai City FC’s Fredrik Ljungberg

Fredrik Ljungberg, Mumbai City FC

Fredrik Ljungberg, Mumbai City FC

I doubt there was any ISL marquee player who deserved the moniker more than Fredrik Ljungberg or who let the fans down as much.

The ex-Invincible was very poor simply because he was injured for most of the time. In fact, Ljungberg only made 4 appearances in the league.

That doesn’t even amount to 4 games as that would mean playing 360 minutes. Ljungberg only played 169 minutes. In terms of minutes, that’s less than 2 games.

How is a man supposed to make a difference in less than 3 hours? Even dates ask more time than that to evaluate whether a man is worth it or not. Heck the Indian bureaucracy takes that much time to have their lunch!

So, I’m not even going to bother giving you the shrivelled fruits of my research into Ljungberg’s statistics. Whatever little difference the man made to his team, he made it through his reputation and not his footballing skills.

Expected Rating**: 8.5 / 10

Final Rating: 3 / 10

It’s no secret that I’m an Arsenal fan. Any Arsenal fan would have huge expectations from Ljungberg. I have to be honest at the same time though. Ljungberg is another one of those players who relied a lot on their pace. Ljungberg is also a special case because he was at his best when he had other players who could contribute with subtle interplays. Since he left Arsenal, he hasn’t had that kind of teammates which is why his performance has dropped. So, my expectations were mainly due to my memories of him.

Mumbai City FC’s Nicolas Anelka

Nicolas Anelka, Mumbai City FC

Nicolas Anelka, Mumbai City FC

Nicolas Anelka is another ex-Arsenal ISL marquee player who arrived in India amidst a lot of fanfare. He possibly has what could be the worst case of wanderlust in the world and it was no surprise to me when it was announced that Anelka will be coming to India.

Just to put his wanderlust into perspective, in a career spanning 18 years, Anelka has changed clubs a whopping 13 times! What’s even more interesting is that he is yet to call time on his career.

Anelka’s stint with Mumbai City FC was similar to a lot of his other stints with mediocre clubs especially in his twilight years. Before he came to Mumbai, Anelka was playing for West Bromwich Albion.

He played 12 games for them in a season and managed to score 2 goals, which is exactly how many he scored for Mumbai City FC in 7 games. While this may not make it seem like Anelka stood out in the league, he did in one manner.

Anelka’s Shots on Target percentage is the best in the league if you only consider players with more than 10 shots. His percentage is 84.6 and the closest anyone else has come is Ranti Martins of FC Goa who had 81.8. Both played the same number of games, so it’s a level playing field.

While Anelka’s shot percentage may be very good, he didn’t look that effective to me. After seeing his numbers and recalling the way he was playing, I believe I now know why.

Anelka’s biggest problem at Mumbai City FC was lack of supply. His teammates couldn’t supply him with the chances that he needed to score goals. The result was that he shuffled to the flanks and dropped into midfield.

I personally noted that he either came to defensive midfield position or went to the flanks. While I don’t have the passing numbers, I did see that he crossed a lot. Anelka’s crosses were particularly high. In fact, he and Iain Hume were the only two strikers in top 20 for crosses in the league.

Anelka has always been a pacey finisher. He has always needed someone to supply him with opportunities to finish to be effective in a game of football. He didn’t get it at Mumbai City FC, which is why he didn’t light up the league.

Expected Rating**: 8.5 / 10

Final Rating: 7 / 10

Anelka is a big name and my expectations were based on that. Moreover, when I saw him last he still looked relatively fit to me. The management of Mumbai probably thought that he would combine well with Ljungberg which didn’t really work out because of Ljungberg’s absence.

Mumbai City FC’s Manuel Friedrich

Manuel Friedrich, Mumbai City FC

Manuel Friedrich, Mumbai City FC

Manuel Friedrich is a part of this list of ISL marquee players mainly because he has played for teams like Werder Bremen, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund, and the German national team. Each of those teams has been at the forefront of German football at one time or another in the last decade or so and if a player has turned out for them then he has to be good.

While it’s true that Friedrich has never been treated like a star, he does have consistency on his side. Statistically, Friedrich is another individual who doesn’t set the world alight. What he does, he does well, and he does it quietly.

He was a central defender for Mumbai City FC and did a very good job at the heart of it all. You might contradict with the fact that his team ended up conceding the most number of goals in the league at 21 but you would be forgetting that defence is a team’s assignment and not just one defender.

Friedrich has a penchant for scoring crucial goals when all hope is lost. He did it for Bayer, he did it for Dortmund, he did it for Mainz, and he did it for Mumbai. His goal came in the 75th minute against Atletico De Kolkata when Mumbai City FC needed to win to stay in contention.

While they didn’t make it in the end because they had left themselves too much to do, Friedrich did shine in that game against the team that would go on to become champions.

Expected Rating**: 5 / 10

Final Rating: 7 / 10

I’ll be honest with you; I didn’t know Friedrich before the ISL much. I had heard of him, of course, but that isn’t enough. This is why I’ve put my expected rating to a neutral of 5.

Northeast United FC’s Joan Capdevila

Joan Capdevila, Northeast United FC

Joan Capdevila, Northeast United FC

Joan Capdevila is one of the true blue idols who come from humble beginnings but end up becoming stars. He started out in the 3rd division in Spain with his home town team called Tarrega.

He went on to represent Espanyol, Atletico De Madrid, Deportivo La Coruna, Villareal, Benfica (Portugal), and the Spain national team in the next 18 years. Such was the popularity of Capdevila in his home town that they named the stadium after him.

Capdevila is a popular figure in Spain. He made his name during his stint with Deportivo La Coruna. That is also where I first saw him. I still remember him bombing down the left flank to the worrying beats of the defenders’ hearts.

While Capdevila isn’t as physically fit now as he was in his prime, he was still stable and steady on the left side of Northeast United FC’s central defensive trio or duo depending on which way Ricki Herbert chose to deploy his team.

The fitness of Capdevila was a matter of concern as is the case with players of his age but he still managed to string together 12 appearances for the Highlanders. Essentially, while Capdevila didn’t stand out, he wasn’t fish out of water either. He was never a player with a lot of creativity but he did what he did consistently which is how he played for Northeast United. His stint in the ISL must be viewed in that light.

Expected Rating**: 7 / 10

Final Rating: 7 / 10

I knew Capdevila from having watched him in the La Liga and Spain national team earlier so I wasn’t surprised with his steadiness. Moreover, I know he isn’t the most creative player so his lack of influence on the attacking side of the pitch didn’t surprise me either. All in all, his performance was exactly what I had expected.

What to Expect From the Next Analyses of ISL Marquee Players on ISL Blog

This analysis of ISL marquee players from the bottom dwellers didn’t break any new ground although Mumbai City FC’s plight did become more obvious. They were plagued by injuries to key players which is why they had such a poor showing this season. Similarly, Northeast United FC tried to do the best they could with their limited resources and I, for one, liked them for it.

In the next instalment, we’ll analyse the ISL marquee players of Chennaiyin FC which they had quite a few of. In fact, I believe them to be the most star studded team in the ISL. You’ll see what I mean. Stay tuned…

**Expected Rating: Rating I expected the player would get at the beginning of the league.

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How Have the ISL Marquee Players Performed This Season – Part I

Luis Garcia, Atletico De Kolkata

The Champs Atletico De Kolkata and the ISL Finalists Kerala Blasters FC

ISL Marquee Players

Many More than just 8 ISL Marquee Players

Let me start with a few disclaimers. This will NOT be a short post. It will NOT be only about ‘ISL Marquee Players’. It will NOT be generic.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me explain what I meant. By saying that this will not be a short post, I mean that I will actually do some research into each player I am going to mention here. I plan to check stats and even some videos for this post.

By saying this this will not be only about ‘ISL Marquee Players’, I mean that I will go beyond the 8 player restriction that that official term triggers. I will expand that purview to include other players. How will I decide who gets to be researched? Well, that’s my prerogative. This means that I may leave out some players that you think deserved to be included. If you think I did, give me a shout.

By saying that it will not be generic, I mean that you shouldn’t expect this post to be like the generic crap that many ‘news websites’ (I call them link junkies) are churning out under the guise of ISL Marquee Player reviews.

I have shortlisted 17 individuals who, I believe, need to be treated as ISL Marquee Players and one surprise, which makes a total of 18 people. Naturally, since I can’t create a single long and winding post that never ends, I’ll be breaking this one down to smaller pieces. In this instalment, you get the two ISL finalists.

So, without further ado, let’s get down and dirty.

Atletico De Kolkata’s Luis Garcia

Luis Garcia, Atletico De Kolkata

Luis Garcia, Atletico De Kolkata

Kolkata’s Luis Garcia did what I call the intangibles. He wasn’t at the end of the good things that Kolkata did but he was neither negligible because he made his team tick. What I mean by intangibles is that what he did wasn’t directed at appearing in statistic tables.

He only provided two assists and scored twice, of which one was a penalty kick. He wasn’t the most prolific shooter and he didn’t even get the majority of his shots on target. With players like these, you need step outside the general view. You have to see them in action in real games. You have to see their indirect influence so to speak.

Luis Garcia’s influence on his team, while not exemplary, wasn’t negligible either. Every time he was on the pitch, I could see Kolkata’s passing quality becoming that much better. All you need to see Garcia’s value to his team is see the games in which he isn’t playing.

Kolkata’s attacks were more blunted and ineffectual without him. They simply lacked the guile that is needed to unlock defences. At the same time, he could’ve done more.

If you’ve seen Luis Garcia play at his peak then you would know that his biggest strengths were his agility and speed both of which are not available to him anymore. It is because of this reason that I’m not surprised with his underwhelming performance. I still had expected a little more.

Expected Rating**: 7.5 / 10

Final Rating: 6 / 10

I expected him to do more mainly because I hadn’t seen him for a long time and remembered his days in the Liverpool and Atletico De Madrid jerseys.

Atletico De Kolkata’s Borja Fernandez

Borja, Atletico De Kolkata

Borja, Atletico De Kolkata

I remember when I used to think that Borja Fernandez was a very good player. He had just broken through the Real Madrid first team then.

He ended up playing only 23 games for them over a period of 3 seasons. That was 2003, a period when I was easily wowed by football. Nowadays, I’m a little more jaded having seen the Invincibles which I believe was the epitome of football.

Borja was a mixed bag of a player in the last 3 months but I think he fit in perfectly with Kolkata’s philosophy. You most probably don’t know what I’m talking about because you haven’t seen the stats yet.

Borja was the best tackler in the league. He had the maximum number of tackles at 63. He was far ahead too because the second position is held by Denson Devadas of Chennaiyin FC with only 53.

However, answer me this. What happens when you have a player who is free with his tackles? Why, you get loads of fouls! That’s exactly what Borja did too. He was second in the Indian Super League with fouls committed at 36.

Who was he behind? His darling teammate Fikru Lemessa. How behind was he? By only 1 foul! So, the top two foulers in ISL were from Atletico De Kolkata. If you’ve been reading my reports, you’ll know that I’ve been castigating Atletico De Kolkata for their overly physical game. With these numbers I rest my case on that debate.

Expected Rating**: 6 / 10

Final Rating: 6.5 / 10

I didn’t think Borja would end up having the kind of influence that he did in the end but a lot of that is because of the way his team was setup. His team’s style of play and his style of play were perfectly complimentary which is why he turned in a better season than expected.

Kerala Blasters FC’s David James

David James, Kerala Blasters FC

David James, Kerala Blasters FC

You could say that David James is a legendary British keeper. He still holds the record for most clean sheets in the English Premier League and is 3rd in terms of all time appearances.

In the yellow of Kerala Blasters FC, despite his old age (he is 44 years old just in case you didn’t know), James still showed why he is a legend. It is unheard of for players to play up to 44 years, even if they’re keepers but James did and did a fair good job of it too.

James played 12 games for Kerala, an achievement in itself but kept the opposition from scoring in 5 of those games. Overall, he allowed 10 goals in at an average of less than a goal per game. Those are good numbers even if you don’t consider James’ age.

The best part about James, though, was his performance as a manager. Granted, Kerala Blasters FC struggled to score goals during the league phase of the ISL but the way that they turned up in the ISL semi final was a coaching master class from James.

Before the ISL semi finals, I said that James was being selfish as a coach by ensuring clean sheets and that he needs to open up his team a little more to score goals. That is exactly what happened in the ISL semi finals as Kerala Blasters blitzed Chennaiyin FC into a catatonic state. You could see the Chennaiyin players reeling on the ground at the Kerala Blasters onslaught.

I will always remember the way in which James turned around his team’s style. I’ve never seen such a drastic change made in such a small time with the same manager and players being available.

In the end, James, I think, did justice to his legend and may well be on his way to adding to that legend as a manager. I won’t be surprised if he gets a chance as a manager in England soon.

Expected Rating**: 6.5 / 10

Final Rating: 8 / 10

I expected James to do well as a goalkeeper but not as a manager. He was decent as a keeper but brilliant as a manager. Together, he exceeded my expectations!

Watch this space for More ISL Marquee Players’ Analyses

So, this was my analysis for my ISL marquee players from the two ISL finalists. Don’t sit back just yet because the next post will be an analysis of the ISL marquee players from the bottom dwellers of the league Mumbai City FC and Northeast United FC. Keep watching this space.

**Expected Rating: Rating I expected the player would get at the beginning of the league.

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Arsenal will play Mumbai City FC & FC Goa next year

Arsenal in ISL

The most ardent football followers amongst you will know it already but I’m not writing this for the most ardent followers. I am writing this for those who follow out of interest and not as an obsession. Although those of you who are obsessive about football wouldn’t really mind reading another article that connects Indian football with one of the best clubs in the world – Arsenal FC.

Arsenal are expected to land in India in the coming summer to play against the ISL semi finalist FC Goa and Mumbai City FC. For general football fans, this would not be a big surprise because clubs in the English Premier League are known to go abroad to combine their preseason preparations and marketing drives.

Arsenal Waking up to India’s Marketing Potential

Arsenal Indonesia Trip

Arsenal Indonesia Trip

The general understanding is that playing in a foreign country against a local team helps build up the club’s fan base in the foreign country.

While this marketing strategy makes complete sense for most clubs, it’s a recently adopted strategy for Arsenal.

Arsene Wenger, before the 2013 season was known to be firmly against making his team travel to distant lands, no matter how magical, during the preseason.

Arsenal US Trip

Arsenal US Trip

His logic was simple in that he believed that travelling so much kept his team from training and building up their fitness levels. He felt that such marketing campaigns take away from the footballing aspect.

As much as I railed against him in my head for seeing the truth, I did understand where he was coming from.

However, the big point is that the club’s management was able to convince Wenger that marketing is a much more integral part of football these days. So, after travelling to Indonesia, Vietnam, and Japan in 2013 along with the United States of America in 2014, Wenger will bring his technicians to India!

There’s logic to what Arsenal are doing and for once they seem to be ahead of the marketing curve when compared to other EPL clubs. While most other clubs are only waking up to the marketing juggernaut that India can be, Arsenal have already booked their tickets.

Indian Super League’s Special Arsenal Connection

Arsenal in ISL

Arsenal in ISL

Besides, the logic also extends to the fact that the Indian Super League saw a surprising number of ex arsenal players, albeit in the twilight of their careers. There were no less than six ex Arsenal players in the league. These include Mikael Silvestre, Robert Pires, Nicolas Anelka, Jermaine Pennant, Fredrik Ljungberg, and Andre Santos.

There was even talk of Thierry Henry considering the Indian Super League as a possible destination before he shattered all our dreams and decided to retire. The good bit, though, is that he chose to become a pundit which should improve the overall IQ in British media.

Arsenal will play FC Goa and Mumbai City FC, both clubs had two ex-Gunners in the form of Pires and Santos and Ljungberg and Anelka respectively. Pires and Ljungberg are even Invincibles! So, you get what I mean that it makes sense for Arsenal to not only come to India but also play FC Goa and Mumbai City FC?

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Indian Super League: A Season in Review

Atletico De Kolkata, ISL Champions
Atletico De Kolkata, ISL Champions

Atletico De Kolkata, ISL Champions

This is the first time I’ve sat down to write anything about the Indian Super League after that fateful ISL Final. That final was the culmination of Atletico De Kolkata’s topsy-turvy season where they started like a house on fire but ended in an as underwhelming manner as a biryani made for the international crowd.

Their performance in the league and knockout phases, both could be seen as flawed in one way and resilient in another. The winner of the whole affair… no it’s not football as most pundits like to say but instead us football fans.

Who would’ve thought that Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Borussia Dortmund (although their fan base may be dwindling rapidly after recent performances) in India would finally get to see good quality football in their own cities?

But, that’s exactly what’s happened. Let bitter people (some from mainstream media and some former players) denigrate the Indian Super League (ISL) as much as they want to. For me, the ISL was a huge success and will remain so unless the organisers really bungle the next instalment of the great tournament. This is my review of a tournament that I have no qualms saying was a tremendous success.

Reviewing Indian Super League, it’s Performance, And Its Format

So, how did the Indian Super League perform in its inaugural season? There were good and bad both. The good, without a doubt for me, was the way the people of our great country took to the Indian Super League like a long lost child come back after getting lost in the stereotypical Kumbh Mela.

I love the fact that a lot of the people following the Indian Super League were people who had no affinity for football before. I love it even more that people who followed more high profile leagues from Europe all their lives chose to reward their love to our own domestic league.

I especially love the fact that barring few teething troubles such as lights going out and poor parking provisions at venues the organisers did a brilliant job with an event. If you consider the fact that the initial expectations from the Indian Super League weren’t anywhere near the popularity it managed to achieve, it is an even greater achievement from the organisers.

The Great Indian Super League

The Great Indian Super League

The quality of football, itself, was comparable to the second tier leagues of the footballing nations of Europe and South America. Our champions Atletico De Kolkata may get taken apart by the bigwigs of the English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga but I have a feeling that they would give the level two teams a run for their money. Heck, our flair child FC Goa was more entertaining and effective attacking wise than many European clubs. I’m looking at the football team from the Middle Earth of Stoke.

Our Indian Super League teams even managed to draw more crowds than most leagues of the world. In fact, only the English Premier League and the Bundesliga are more watched as of now. That was only because some of our stadiums are smaller than the smallest stadiums on other continents.

I’ll give you a prediction. You give our teams bigger stadiums to fill and I promise you they’ll fill it! Watch out UK and Germany, Indian football has been resuscitated and is coming after you next!

The format is the only thing I have a bone to pick with. I like the fact that we have a combination of league and knockout because that is what is needed in a country like India. The Indian Super League is nascent in nature and needs its popularity and entertainment to be boosted. If we were to only use the league format, I think the league wouldn’t be as popular as it was. The knockout phase adds a certain spice to the whole meal for our uninitiated countrymen.

At the same time, I don’t like the fact that we have a 1st vs. 4th and 2nd vs. 3rd format. I believe we would be better off if we drew lots for who will play who. I know that the Major League Soccer uses this playoff system but even there I don’t approve of it. You might say that when we have more teams, this is something that will cease to matter but I don’t agree entirely.

What’s the point of making the leaders play the lowest qualifying team? I say, we draw lots because that will add another level of excitement as fans will start to speculate who their teams will play in the next round. Imagine not knowing who your favourite Indian Super League team will play in the knockouts. Doesn’t that send a tingle down your spine as you speculate whether you’ll meet the in-form team or the pushovers? Does to me which is why I think it’ll be good for the common football fan.

Reviewing Indian Super League Players, Indian and Foreign

Ahh, the Indian Super League players, did they perform? Did the foreign stars do justice to their legends? Did our Indian players make the step up? Could our stars match the best geriatrics legends that the world had to offer? Is the concept of ISL marquee player good for our country? Interesting questions and the answers are not black and white.

The quality of football in the Indian Super League was better than what many and I myself had expected. In some games, the quality of football was breath-taking while in others it was poor. A large percentage of the latter could be attributed to Atletico De Kolkata but they won so they justified it all with the big T.

What about the ISL marquee players from abroad? Again, some of them showed their capabilities while others fell flat on their faces. However, it wasn’t the stars we expected to do well who did well. It were the unfancied stars that did it.

Elano, Golden Boot Winner

Elano, Golden Boot Winner

Elano lit up the league but he relied on set pieces a lot which isn’t something that requires a lot of stamina. Luis Garcia did it somewhat through his passing but couldn’t step up in terms of assists and goals. David James really did it but he was another who didn’t rely on his fitness because he wasn’t an outfield player.

The Anelkas, the Trezeguets, the Ljungbergs, the Del Pierros, and I’m sorry to add the Pires are the ones that couldn’t do it. Did I leave someone out? Well, you can add them to the last group because if they weren’t memorable then they didn’t do it.

Best Foreign Player 11 of ISL

Best Foreign Player 11 of ISL

Apart from the ISL marquee players, there were other foreigners in the Indian Super League too. The ones that stood out for me were (in no particular order) Apoula Edel, Josemi, Fikru Lemessa, Bernard Mendy, Bruno Pelissari, Stiven Mendoza, Gustavo Dos Santos, Andre Santos, Zohib Amiri, Bruno Pinheiro, Iain Hume, Colin Falvey, Stephen Pearson, Pavel Cmovs, and Jan Stohanzl.

My best 11 from this lot is in image. In honour of the finalists, theirs are the colours I have chosen.

The best part of the Indian Super League was the Indian players. They really turned on the magic if you ask me. I’m not going to talk about the players who never made it onto the pitch as so many others have chosen to do. I’d rather be positive and talk about those that merited a spot in their teams and showed their merits in grand style.

The pick of the lot for me were Romeo Fernandes, Narayan Das, Sandesh Jhingan, and of course Arnab Mondal. Romeo is a star in the making and he didn’t only show it with his goals and assists but also with the skills that don’t get counted. He passed well, ran well, and even tackled well. Das, Jhingan, and Mondal are all defenders who were like walls for their teams.

There’s news that Mondal may even get picked by Atletico De Madrid albeit only for their B team. It’s still a step up for the 25 year old and I wish him all the best. I hope he climbs up the ladder, faces Messi, and shows how good Indian defenders are by nullifying him left, right, and centre. That’s a nice dream isn’t it?

Best Indian Player 11 of ISL

Best Indian Player 11 of ISL

While these were the standout performers for me, there were others who deserve credit for standing tall too. These were (again in no particular order) Dhanachandra Singh, Balwant Singh, Debabrata Roy, Bikramjit Singh, Mandar Rao Desai, Sandip Nandy, Rehenesh TP, and Durga Boro. (If you feel I have left our some players then let me hear it in the comments section)

Now, I know that my lists lack players from FC Pune City and Northeast United FC but that’s only because those two teams didn’t have any standout performers for me. They were both well drilled teams that played as a team. Give them a star and they may even surprise us all next season.

Reviewing Indian Super League Fans

They said it best!

They said it best!

You can’t fault the Indian fans for showing heart. They truly know how to cheer even if they can’t appreciate the game. There were many instances where I heard the fans cheering for no rhyme or reason at all.

It doesn’t matter though because at the end of the day the fact that they cheered is more than enough. The understanding of the game and the resultant arguments with best buddies will come later.

Some of the stadiums truly showed the kind of fan following any sport in the country can generate. Examples of great stadiums and great fans include the champions Atletico De Kolkata, the favourites Chennaiyin FC, the team with heart Kerala Blasters FC, the down but not out Mumbai City FC, and even the outlying Northeast United FC.

Delhi Dynamos FC fans can learn a thing or two from the fans of those teams. Delhi Dynamos FC’s stadium sorely needed some good support.

Reviewing Mainstream Media

This is where I have a problem. We have a well-developed and cash rich mainstream media. It is because of this reason that I find it surprising that the big channels and newspapers couldn’t find a good football expert to write and report for them. It was a pity reading some of the reports that our media churned out. They were poorly researched, lacked insight, and were depressingly drab.

Now, I am not saying that I want something like the overzealous media of England but we could do with some passionate and hard-hitting journalists who actually know what they’re spouting. Even the Indian Super League website’s reports were poor when compared to European media. I guess they’re learning too. Hope they can buck up their part in the big scheme of things because the media is actually responsible for creation a lot of passion amongst the populace.

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ISL Final: Efficient Atletico De Kolkata Are the Deserved Champions

ISL Final - Kerala Blasters FC vs. Atletico De Kolkata

Ok, let’s begin with a confession. I’ve never bothered with opening and closing ceremonies and the way I’m doing I doubt I ever will. What I have a tendency never to miss though is finals. I sit here with a stiff drink and even stiffer chips on a very soft seat looking forward to watching the ISL Final.

In terms of team news, it seems that I was wrong about Kerala Blasters not having their 1st and 2nd choice keepers. David James chose to give himself what could be his last ever start in a professional football game.

Other new names in the Kerala Blasters starting line-up were Saumik Dey at left back and Nirmal Chettri at right back. Sandesh Jhingan moved into central defence.

Atletico De Kolkata had to endure a heavy blow before the game as Luis Garcia and Lester Fernandez wasn’t deemed fit enough to start the game. For those two, Arnal Llibert and Kingshuk Debnath came on.

Kerala Blasters Start More Positively

David James, Kerala Blasters FC

David James, Kerala Blasters FC

Unsurprisingly, Kerala Blasters were the more attacking of the two teams even though Atletico De Kolkata started in their 4 – 4 – 2 formation.

Both teams were set up to be attacking but it was really Kerala who looked more comfortable in the opponent’s final third.

Within the first 10 minutes, the most interesting part of the game was that David James wasn’t moving as freely as you would expect him too.

He was moving gingerly and was being very careful with his clearances. I wondered if that would be something that would end up causing problems for Kerala Blasters especially if the ISL Final was to go to penalties.

Two Great Chances – Two Great Examples of Good Defending

Victor Herrero Forcada, Atletico De Kolkata

Victor Herrero Forcada (Polga), Atletico De Kolkata

What was clicking for Kerala Blasters, though, was their attack. In the 11th minute, Victor Herrero Forcada (Pulga) created good space for himself in the 18 yard box.

He got a shot off but it was blocked off. Ishfaq Ahmed was right behind Pulga by creating a wonderful opportunity of his own from outside the box.

He tried for the near post after beating 3 Kolkata players but Apoula Edel proved a match for his shot.

Referee under the Spotlight

Nirmal Chettri, Kerala Blasters FC

Nirmal Chettri, Kerala Blasters FC

In the 25th minute, Atletico De Kolkata showed what they’re capable of. Their midfield set Mohammed Rafi free in the middle of the pitch who showed great skill to control the ball.

However, he couldn’t be the man to win the ISL Final for his team because Chettri came in and fouled him clumsily. It could’ve been a red card but the referee chose a yellow card instead.

I wasn’t entirely sure which card it should’ve been because there were other defenders in line but not ahead. So that was one where interpretation of the rules comes into play.

Atletico De Kolkata and Kerala Blasters Exchange Blows

Iain Hume, Kerala Blasters FC

Iain Hume, Kerala Blasters FC

Atletico De Kolkata’s best chance came as a twin. The ball was crossed from deep on the right flank and Rafi got to the ball too but James had positioned himself flawlessly.

This was followed by a long range shot from Jakub Podany (Pody) towards the near post which James saved too.

Iain Hume came up with a brilliant freekick in the 39th minute. His shot went up and over the wall and towards Edel’s right corner. Fortunately, Edel read the shot and managed to palm it for a corner.

After those chances, the ISL Final became scrappy with both teams giving the ball away in quick succession. That’s how everyone went into the half time break.

Exchange of Blows Continues In the Second Half

Apoula Edel, Atletico De Kolkata

Apoula Edel, Atletico De Kolkata

Atletico De Kolkata started the second half on the front foot. Their aggression seemed to have surprised Kerala Blasters because they got pegged back and made some unforced errors.

However, they recovered very quickly and very effectively. Michael Chopra was set free at an acute angle in Kolkata box and got a ferocious shot off towards the top corner.

However, Edel again stood strong and unconventionally chose to punch it away with one hand.

Kerala Blasters Attack; Atletico De Kolkata Counter

Sandesh Jhingan, Kerala Blasters FC

Sandesh Jhingan, Kerala Blasters FC

Normal service resumed after that as Kerala Blasters continued to dominate. Hume was set free to run at the keeper but I believe his age caught up with him before he could reach Edel. Once the one on one evaporated, there wasn’t much he could do.

However, Kerala Blasters continued to attack looking for that elusive goal while Atletico De Kolkata courted it in the way of counters. On one of those counters, Sandesh Jhingan almost scored another own goal.

Another counter resulted in Arnal being free from an acute angle. Still, he had James on a one on one but couldn’t even work him. His shot went high and wide and James stood there unruffled.

The Red Zone of Fatigue and Mistakes Begins

Michael Chopra, Kerala Blasters FC

Michael Chopra, Kerala Blasters FC

After that flurry of attacks, as fatigue set in, the game became slower after the 60th minute. I believe that it wasn’t just fatigue but also mental jitters of playing in the ISL Final that kept the players from playing freely. They simply became safer and safer as the clock ticked on.

The best chance for Kerala Blasters came in the 79th minute. Kerala Blasters showed some deft interplay and understanding and created a chance for Chopra just inside the box. Chopra received the ball in the centre and passed it to his left to Stephen Pearson. Pearson returned the ball to Chopra inside the box but Chopra’s shot was too tame.

Neither Chopra nor Hume looked tired in the 83rd minute though. Hume rand free on his team’s left flank and cross but his cross was deflected. The ball fell to Chopra who first fought hard and then bedazzled the defender to get his shot off.

He didn’t consider Edel in his equation, though, because Edel pulled off what could’ve been the save of the whole season. The shot was almost point blank. At the same time, Edel managed to somehow palm the ball away onto the post. The ball glanced off the post and went out for a corner.

The ISL Final Winning Goal

Mohammed Rafique, Atletico De Kolkata

Mohammed Rafique, Atletico De Kolkata

After almost 93 minutes of waiting, the ISL Final winning goal finally came from the unlikeliest of sources and the unlikeliest of teams. Mohammed Rafique was the scorer and Atletico De Kolkata were the winner.

I believe the corner was taken by Polga. The corner came from Atletico De Kolkata’s left side and the shortest players on the pitch at that time rose tall and proud to head the ball into the bottom corner on James’ right side.

James dived full stretch but even the legendary James couldn’t have done anything to save that header.

The Mecca of Indian Football Gets the First Indian Super League Trophy

Antonio Lopez Habas, ISL Final Winning Head Coach

Antonio Lopez Habas, ISL Final Winning Head Coach

The funniest thing was that the goal came right at death. There were 3 minutes added by the referee and the goal came when the 93 minutes had already gone by. Rafique just headed himself into the history books with the first goal in the ISL final.

Kerala Blasters looked unbelievably dejected. I didn’t think it would’ve mattered to them so much to win the final. One of the most disappointed players on the pitch was James. He actually went and sat at the bench for a good 15 minutes staring into space.

Colin Falvey had tears in his eyes as did Jhingan and other Kerala Blasters players. Sachin Tendulkar actually came onto the pitch to console his players. He’s a part owner of Kerala Blasters, in case you didn’t know.

The most heartening part of the game was that when the final whistle was blown, Atletico De Kolkata players celebrated for a minute or two and then went to the Kerala Blasters players. You could see them consoling their opponents in the most sporting manner I have ever seen.

Atletico De Kolkata may not play the most beautiful football in the league but they do play it in the most effective way. I may not like their intimidation and physical tactics but today they showed empathy and heart when they went to console their opponents after winning the game. It was good to see and must be appreciated.

The champions of the Indian Super League needed to be special. In the ISL Final, Atletico De Kolkata showed why they are special. I tip my hat to you good sirs. They deserve the win.

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