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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