Indian Super League (ISL) is set to kick-start its fourth season and promises to take the nation by storm. The new season will include two new teams – Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC – promising more entertainment and high-octane footballing action after expanding from eight teams to 10.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has provided a major boost by recognising the ISL as a national league and now the winners will be guaranteed a spot in the next edition of the AFC Cup.
Like every other year, ISL will follow the Major League Soccer format – with the top four teams after the league stage playing in the semi-finals and finally the club winning the final will lift the trophy.
There has been a change in the rules and this will definitely help in the growth of the domestic players. From now onwards every team will have to field a minimum of six Indian players in the starting line-up with each of the teams also need to include a minimum of two U-21 players in their squad.
The fourth edition of the ISL will kick-start on 17 November, 2017 and the league stage matches will end on 4 March, 2018. The semi-finals will be played from the second week of March 2018 with the final scheduled to be held on 17 March, 2018 in Kolkata.
FootTheBall brings to you an in-depth squad analysis of the 10 clubs.
The two-time champions Atletico de Kolkata have ended their partnership with La Liga giants Atletico Madrid over the summer and have now renamed themselves as ATK.
There have been other changes too, with the Kolkata based club appointing legendary Premier League forward Teddy Sheringham as their new boss. ATK have also parted ways with marquee player Helder Postiga and has now signed former LA Galaxy superstar Robbie Keane as his replacement.
The defending champions have tied down goalkeeper Debjit Majumder and also full-back Prabir Das but they parted ways with ISL’s all-time top-scorer Iain Hume, who made a switch to Kerala Blasters.
With Humes’s departure, the responsibility of taking charge up front will rest on Keane, who is known for his clinical finishes and supreme control over the ball in the final third. To offer Keane full support, ATK have India international Robin Singh and former Aizawl FC attacker Jayesh Rane in their squad.
Goalkeepers: Debjit Majumder, Kunzang Bhutia, Jussi Jaaskelainen
Defenders: Nallappan Mohanraj, Tom Thorpe, Jordi, Keegan Pereira, Anwar Ali, Augustin Fernandes, Prabir Das, Ashutosh Mehta
Midfielders: Conor Thomas, Carl Baker, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Darren Caldeira, Shankar Sampingiraj, Rupert Nongrum, Hitesh Sharma, Ronald Singh, Bipin Singh
Forwards: Njazi Kuqi, Zequinha, Jayesh Rane, Robbie Keane, Robin Singh
Coach: Teddy Sheringham
Two-time I-League champions Bengaluru FC are one of the two new teams in the ISL this season. Pundits believe that they are one of the favourites to lift the trophy this season.Their impressive stint in the AFC Cup was an opportunity for the players to settle down well.
They have a super-strong attacking line-up with Indian skipper Sunil Chhetri and talented youngster Udanta Singh taking charge up front. As far as defence is concerned they have nothing to worry about with John Johnson, who has been present in the club since its inception, will anchor the back-line along with Juanan.
Standing between the sticks they have Gurpreet Singh, who has a reputation of keeping clean sheets and will be key to Bengaluru’s title hopes.
Goalkeepers: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Lalthuammawia Ralte, Abhra Mondal
Defenders: Rahul Bheke, Zohmingliana Ralte, Harmanjot Khabra, Collin Abranches, Juanan, John Johnson, Nishu Kumar, Subashish Bose, Joyner Lourenco
Midfielders: Erik Paartalu, Dimas Delgado, Edu Garcia, Toni Dovale, Lenny Rodrigues, Malsawmzuala, Boithang Haokip, Alwyn George, Robinson Singh, Bidyananda Singh
Forwards: Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh, Miku, Braulio Nobrega, Thongkhosiem Haokip
Coach: Albert Roca
After failing to impress in the 2016-17 season, Chennaiyin FC has sacked manager Marco Matterazi and have roped in Englishman John Gregory as their new boss.
The yellow brigade have kept attacker Jeje Lalpekhlua and goalkeeper Karanjit Singh. The squad boasts of an even balance between talented Indian players and experienced foreign players.
Foreign signings Mailson Alves, Henrique Sereno and Raphael Augusto have the experience of playing at top level for years and to support them they have Indian young guns – Jerry Lalrinzuala, Anirudh Thapa and Germanpreet Singh.
Jeje will have to anchor the Chennaiyin attack and he will be looking to step up his game after a disappointing campaign last season.
Goalkeepers: Karanjit Singh, Shahinlal Meloly, Pawan Kumar
Defenders: Henrique Sereno (c), Inigo Calderon, Mailson Alves, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Dhanachandra Singh, Fulganco Cardozo, Sanjay Balmuchu, Keenan Almeida
Midfielders: Raphael Augusto, Jaime Gavilan, Rene Mihelic, Thoi Singh, Bikramjit Singh, Dhanpal Ganesh, Germanpreet Singh, Francis Fernandes, Anirudh Thapa
Forwards: Gregory Nelson, Jude Nworuh, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Mohammed Rafi, Baoringdao Bodo
Coach: John Gregory
Delhi Dynamos FC
The Delhi based club have not retained any of their players despite reaching the semi-finals in the last two seasons. The owners wanted to rebuild the entire squad which saw them parting ways with top scorer Marcelinho, playmaker Florent Malouda and Kean Lewis.
Delhi roped in tried and tested full-backs Sena Ralte and Pritam Kotal and Paulinho Dias, whom they expect to dominate the midfield. They also snapped the I-League winning former Aizawl FC goalkeeper Albino Gomes, who failed to seal a place in the starting XI during his time in Mumbai.
They have replaced Marcelinho with 34-year old Nigerian striker Kalu Uche and only time will tell whether the Super Eagles star can anchor the Delhi attack.
Goalkeeper: Albino Gomes, Sukhadev Patil and Arnab Das Sharma
Defenders: Gabriel Cichero, Jayananda Singh Moirangthem, Lalmangaihsanga Ralte, Mohammad Sajid Dhot, Munmum Timothy Lugun, Pratik Chowdhary, Pritam Kotal and Rowilson Rodrigues
Midfielders: Eduardo Moya, Jeroen Lumu, Matias Mirabaje, Paulinho Dias, Seityasen Singh, Simranjeet Singh and Vinit Rai
Forwards: David Ngaihte, Guyon Fernandez, Kalu Uche, Romeo Fernandes, Lallianzuala Chhangte
Coach: Miguel Angel Portugal
The Goa based club failed miserably in the 2016-17 season and to get things back-on-track, they have now shown Brazilian legend Zico the exit door. They have signed former Barcelona youth coach Sergio Lobera as their new boss.
Lobera has been quick to induce his Spanish style of play into the squad and it appears that Gaurs have settled in well under their new boss, judging by their performances in the pre-season campaign.
They have roped in six Spanish players and 33-year old winger Manuel Lanzarote displayed incredible form – with four goals to his name including the one he scored in their win over Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan.
Goalkeeper Laxmikant Kattimani had shown sparks of brilliance last seaon despite the Gaurs finishing last and he has been retained by the Goan side. The former Dempo shot stopper have already impressed his new team-mates with Bruno Pinheiro calling him the best Indian goalkeeper in the league.
Goalkeepers: Laxmikant Kattimani, Bruno Colaco and Naveen Kumar
Defenders: Amey Ranawade, Bruno Pinheiro, Chinglensana Singh, Jovel Martins, Mohamed Ali, Narayan Das, Seriton Fernandes and Sergio Marin
Midfielders: Ahmed Jahouh, Anthony D’Souza, Brandon Fernandes, Edu Bedia, Mandar Rao, Manuel Arana, Manuel Lanzarote, Mohammad Yasir, Pratesh Shirodkar and Pronay Halder.
Forwards: Adrian Colunga, Ferran Corominas, Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh
Coach: Sergio Lobera
FC Pune City
Pune signed 2016-17 Golden Boot winner Marcelinho as well as his former Delhi team-mate Kean Lewis.
Ranko Popovic will rest his hopes on the former Delhi duo to anchor the Pune attack. They also have Ashique Kuruniyan, who has returned from a loan move to La Liga side Villarreal.
Popovic’s side also have rising Indian stars Nim Dorjee Tamang and Isaac Vanmalsawma but it would be interesting to see whether they can seal a place in the starting line-up.
Goalkeepers: Vishal Kaith, Kamaljit Singh and Anuj Kumar
Defenders: Rafa Lopez, Damir Grgic, Nim Dorjee Tamang, Adil Khan, Pawan Kumar, Lalchhuanmawia, Wayne Vaz and Gurtej Singh
Midfielders: Jewel Raja, Marcos Tebar, Robertino Pugliara, Jonatan Lucca, Baljit Sahni, Isaac Vanmalsawma, Ashique Kuruniyan, Rohit Kumar, Harpreet Singh and Kean Lewis
Forwards: Diego Carlos, Emiliano Alfaro, Marcelinho, Ajay Singh
Coach: Ranko Popovic
Jamshedpur FC is owned by Tata Steel, who also boast of the highly productive Tata Football Academy which has given India players like Renedy Singh, Syed Rahim Nabi, Subrata Paul and Robin Singh.
They will be the first ISL team to play in their own stadium and have talented Indian players in their squad. The Men Of Steel roped in Anas Edathodika, Subrata Paul Bikash Jairu, Mehtab Hossain and Souvik Chakraborty.
They have also signed former ATK centre-back Tiri as they want him to form a blockbuster partnership with Anas at the core of the defence.
Goalkeepers: Rafique Ali Sardar, Sanjiban Ghosh, Subrata Paul
Defenders: Andre Bikey, Anas Edathodika, Robin Gurung, Sairuat Kima, Shouvik Ghosh, Yumnam Raju, Tiri
Midfielders: Matheus Goncalves, Memo, Bikash Jairu, Mehtab Hossain, Souvik Chakraborty, Sameehg Doutie, Ishfaq Ahmed
Forwards: Kervens Belfort, Ashim Biswas, Farukh Chowdhary, Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Siddharth Singh, Sumeet Passi, Izu Azuka
Coach: Steve Coppell
Kerala Blasters FC
The men in yellow have shown huge promise and have displayed spectacular form over the course of the last three seasons. They reached the final twice in three seasons by failed to clinch the trophy. This time around the Blasters have nothing in mind except the trophy.
Kerala Blasters hit the jackpot with their blockbuster signing of former Manchester United star Dimitar Berbatov. They also brought back their former player Iain Hume, who is the ISL’s leading goalscorer.
Another big name in their squad this season is former United defender Wes Brown, whom they want to strike a rock-solid partnership with Sandesh Jhingan in the heart of the defence.
Rene Meulensteen’s side also has Indian talents CK Vineeth and Jackichand Singh as back-up the blockbuster pairing of Bervatov and Hume. But they lack a quality midfielder and this may dent their chances of winning the title.
Goalkeepers: Paul Rachubka, Sandip Nandy, Subhasish Roy Chowdhury
Defenders: Nemanja Lakić-Pešić, Wes Brown, Pritam Kumar Singh, Sandesh Jhingan, Lalruatthara, Lalthakima, Rino Anto, Samuel Shadap
Midfielders: Milan Singh, Arata Izumi, Loken Meitei, Siam Hanghal, Ajith Sivan, Courage Pekuson, Jackichand Singh
Forwards: Karan Sawhney, Prasanth Karuthadathkuni, Iain Hume, CK Vineeth, Mark Sifneos, Dimitar Berbatov
Coach: René Meulensteen
Mumbai City FC
Mumbai have a rock-solid back-line this time around. They have retained their defensive pair Lucian Goian and Gerson Vieira. And taking control of the full-back positions will be the tried and tested duo of Raju Gaikwad and Mehrajuddin Wadoo along with Davinder Singh.
They have also retained Indian goalkeeper Amrinder Singh who won the Golden Glove award last season.
In the midfield, Indian young guns Sehnaj Singh and Abhinas Ruidas will support their Cameroonian playmaker Achille Emaná and up front anchoring the Mumbai attack will be Punjab-born striker Balwant Singh.
Goalkeepers: Amrinder Singh, Arindam Bhattacharya, Kunal Sawant
Defenders: Lucian Goian, Marcio Rosario, Gerson Vieira, Raju Gaikwad, Davinder Singh, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Aiborlang Khongjee, Biswajit Saha, Lalchhawnkima
Midfielders: Thiago Santos, Léo Costa, Achille Emaná, Sehnaj Singh, Rakesh Oram, Zakeer Mundampara, Sahil Tavora, Abhinas Ruidas, Sanju Pradhan
Forwards: Rafa Jorda, Everton Santos, Pranjal Bhumij, Balwant Singh
Coach: Alexandre Guimaraes
North East United FC
Despite being the epicentre of footballing talent in India, NEUFC are one of the two teams who have never reached the ISL playoffs.NEUFC are eyeing to end their poor run in the ISL and are charged up after seeing fellow northeast side Aizawl FC reaching the top.
Aizawl FC scripted a Leicester City like story by winning the I-League last season – beating big guns Bengaluru FC, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal in their journey to the top.
They are being looked up as the underdogs of this season but they have talented Indian players with the likes of Rowllin Borges, Lalrindika Ralte, Nirmal Chettri, Reagan Singh and Halicharan Narzary.
Goalkeepers: Rehenesh TP, Gurpreet Singh Chabhal, Ravi Kumar
Defenders: Abdul Hakku, Gursimral Gill, Nirmal Chettri, Reagan Singh, Robert Lalthlamuana, Sambinha, Jose Goncalves, Martin Diaz
Midfielders: Rowllin Borges, Lalrindika Ralte, Larempuia Fanai, Malemngamba Meitei, Sushil Meitei, Marcinho, Adilson Goiano, Halicharan Narzary
Forwards: Danilo, Luis Paez, Odair Fortes, Seminlen Doungel
Coach: Joao de Deus