Saiguhan Elancheran provides us with an in depth look at the competitors for the I-League 2017.
As the I-League 2017 has started, people in and around India would be tuning onto their TV channels and live streams to catch the games. I feel it is important to give an insight to the viewers, especially those who are new to the I-League, the top Indian professional league for association football clubs. The I-League 17 season will be played by ten teams.
Known locally as “The People’s club”, Aizawl Football Club is based from the capital of Mizoram, Aizawl. By winning the 2015 I-League 2nd division, Aizawl FC were promoted to the I-League in the next season. The AIFF professionalized them when they officially certified the club to participate in the second division. They are the first team from Mizoram to have played in the top tier league.
Keepers: A.Gomes, Zothamawia
Defenders: L.Khiangte, Z.Ralte, Lalramhmunmawia, Lalthakima, Lalramchullova, C. Lallawmazuala, A. Mehta, Lalhriatrenga and Lalruatthara.
Midfielders: E. Obumneme, Mahmoud Al Amenah, Lalnuntluanga, H. Lalbiakthanga, L. Rohmingthanga, A. Zohmingmawia, R. Laldanmawia, H. Lalmuankima, V. Laltanpuia and Rochharzela.
Forwards: F. Lalrinpuia, J. Lalrawngbawla, J. Rane, M. Vanlalduatsanga, A. Jaryan, B. Vanlalremdika, K. Bayi and W. Lalnunfela.
Players to watch: Much will depend on the likes of Jayesh Rane and Alfred Jaryan. Jaryan, the 28-year-old Liberian will be a great threat for the opposition as he has shown in the last two seasons, whereas Rane, on loan from ISL Franchisee Chennaiyin FC, will be banked on to support him. The most dangerous one to watch should be Lalrinpuia. He was the top scorer of the 2016 MPL with 13 goals and was named the player of the tournament.
Manager: Khalid Jamil | The longest serving manager in a single I-League club – Jamil for Mumbai FC – has stepped out the club after seven years. 39-year-old former India international played for the likes of Air India and Mahindra United before taking in charge of Mumbai FC in 2009. He as a footballer and a coach is very adaptive to the conditions in the subcontinent as he has a great experience both from his playing as well as coaching career.
After joining in the year 2009, Jamil understood the needs of the club and was very astute in his plans for the club. Mumbai finished in 11th place out of 14 in his second season in-charge. It was quite a great feat given the limited resources that were provided. In the next season, Jamil started setting example as a manager when he took his team to a 7th place finish. They again broke their record by finishing 6th in 2015 season. And they even bettered it the next season by finishing 5th in the league.
Previous performances: After getting relegated last season, finished 8th out of 9 teams, the AIFF decided to reinstate them. They are the defending champions of the MPL and now look to seek safety under their new manager Jamil. The pull-out of Goan clubs paved the way as the AIFF had to fill in the remaining slots of the teams.
Season’s target: Their aim this season should be to finish mid-table and mainly to avoid relegation. Inexperience was the main factor for them to finish second last in the league in the previous season but coach Jamil will be looking forward to organise his team and play for survival with a decent position in the table.
The team needs no introduction. One of the most famous clubs not only in the country but also in the continent, Bengaluru FC are the defending champions of the I-League. They are the first ever club to win the I-League in its debut season. The “West Block Blues” – the fans from the stand bearing the same name in the stadium – are among the most talked about Indian football fans at present.
Goalkeepers: A. Bhattacharya, L. Ralte and A. Singh
Defenders: K. Pereira, Lalchhuanmawia, J. Johnson, S. Singh, N. Kumar, Juanan, G. Gill, R. Anto, Nanjangud Shivananju Manju, Sena Ralte
Midfielders: M. Desai, Malsawmzuala, E. Lyngdoh, L. Rodrigues, S. Doungel, C. Watson, A. George and H. Khabra.
Forwards: S. Chhetri, C.K. Vineeth, D. Lalhlimpuia, U. Singh, R. Norales and B. Beingaichho
Players to watch: Without any doubt, the key player of Bengaluru FC is their captain – Sunil Chhetri. After a not so impressive 2016 domestic season, Chhetri will be looking to raise the bar high this season with his goal scoring return. He lost his opportunity to win a hat-trick in POTY award when his Indian teammate and Mohun Bagan counter-part Jeje edged past him. Chhetri could become the first player to score 50 goals in all competitions for the Blues. But his first and foremost goal will be to captain the side to the I-League trophy once again.
Manager: Albert Roca | Roca, who was the assistant manager for Rijkaard at Barcelona from 2003-2008, is a firm believer in possession based football. The Spaniard oversaw the second half of their dream AFC Cup run last season and will be expected to retain the league title.
Previous performances: Bengaluru FC are the champions of India, having produced some brilliant performances in the recent past. The two times champions have brought pride to the country when they reached the finals of the AFC Cup in 2016, becoming the first team from India to do so. In 2015, the defending champions were on their way to defend their title but they lost it in the last gasp to Mohun Bagan and they finished second in the season.
Season’s target: They will aim to defend their trophy this season and create history as no team has defended the I-League trophy in the past 10 years since its inauguration.
Chennai City FC
Chennai City FC are making their debut in the I-League after being one of two teams, along with Minerva Punjab, to be granted a direct spot in the country’s premier footballing league. Interestingly, they did not even compete in the second division of the I-League last season. They were playing in the senior division of the Chennai Football Association (CFA) league before deciding to apply when the AIFF invited applications for new clubs in the I-League, following the infamous pull-out of the Goan clubs.
Goalkeepers: Karanjit Singh, Kabir Thaufiq
Defenders: Dharmaraj Ravanan, Abhishek Das, Sunil Kumar
Midfielders: Dhanpal Ganesh, Zakeer Mundampara, Darren Caldeira, A. Beautin, Soosairaj Michael, Michael Regin.
Forwards: Marcos Tank, Charles, Malsawmfela
Players to watch: This new team does not boast star studded names. But the attacking pair of Marcos Tank and Charles have generated a bit of excitement. The Brazilian forwards are not famous but they have progressed through the academies of Corinthians and Fluminense before turning out for the senior sides of the respective clubs.
Manager: Robin Charles Raja | Former Tamil Nadu state team coach A Robin Charles Raja was announced as the head coach by Chennai City FC when they were awarded the entry to the top tier competition. He is an AFC pro-coaching license holder and has coached the likes of Hindustan Eagles and Chennai Customs to the senior division titles in the CFA Football League. Though he has a good track record in the lower leagues, this is the first time he will be managing in the I-League. It would be interesting to watch how the gaffer shapes his team.
Previous Performances: Initially named as Nethaji FC, the club was languishing in Chennai’s first division when current owner Rohit Ramesh took over in 2013. They lost their prominence in Chennai’s senior division in the early stages of the 21st century. Chennai City FC won promotion back to the Chennai Senior division after changes in the club – investments, club’s name and colours – and have now become the first club from the state of Tamil Nadu to compete in India’s premier football league.
Season’s target: Compared to the likes of Bengaluru FC, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, Chennai City FC is an average side which has been assembled to compete at the highest level in the country. He knows that a mid-table finish along with the emergence of several home-grown players would constitute a promising start.
Churchill Brothers are the only football club from Goa to participate in the I-League 2017 after the pull-out of the prime Goan clubs. Churchill Brothers was founded in 1988 in Margao. In 2007, the club were also a founding club in the I-League. In the first decade of the 21st century, the club won one League Championship title and three Durand Cups. They are the only one of the two clubs to have won the trophy twice, along with Bengaluru while their local rivals Dempo have won it thrice.
Goalkeepers: Priyant Singh, Naveen Kumar
Defenders: Rowilson Rodrigues, Yumnam Raju, Keenan Almeida ,Denzil Franco, Meldon D’Silva, Satish Singh ,Adil Khan, Banpynkhrawnam Nongkhlaw
Midfielders: Clifford Miranda, Anthony D’Souza, Aniston Fernandes, Seriton Fernandes, Richard Costa, Surabuddin Mollick, Joshua Vaz, Kingsley Fernandes, Surchandra Singh, Nicholas Fernandes, Chesterpaul Lyngdoh, Talgat uulu Bektar.
Forwards: Anthony Wolfe, Brandon Fernandes, Angelo Colaco, A Kroma
Players to watch: Anthony Wolfe will be Churchill Brothers’ trump card for goals this season. Having played for the likes of Churchill Brothers and Sporting Goa in the past 3 years, the Trinidad and Tobago international knows a lot about the Indian Football. He will be relied upon as a source of goals by Joseph Afusi. Also another important player to watch out is Kinglsey Fernandes. His defensive work for Churchill Brothers will be pivotal for them should they aim to stay in the league.
Manager: Joseph Afusi | The coach has already led the Goan team in the 2014/15 Goa Pro League season. The Nigerian has won the Bangladesh Premier League title with Sheikh Jamal Dhanmondi twice and has also won a Bangladesh Federation Cup title.
Afusi left the club half-way through the last season when it was apparent that the club won’t take part in the I-League in the season to come. But when they were reinstated, Afusi left the BPL champions to join Churchill Brothers.
Previous Performances: Churchill Brothers were out of I-League action for two seasons and finished eighth among 11 teams in the recently concluded Goa Pro League where they won only 3 out of 15 games. Courtesy of the pull-out of Goan Clubs and AIFF, Churchill brothers were reinstated in the league. The last time they turned out in the I-League in the 2013-14 season, the Red Machines finished 12th. However, they did manage to clinch the Federation Cup title and also progressed to the AFC Cup Round of 16.
Season’s target: Poor showing in the GPL would surely be in the minds of the players. Having seen no top tier football in the last 2 years, the boys from Goa have to put up a hard fight to stay in the league.
The first professional football club in India to have tied up with a major international football club (Liverpool FC), DSK Shivajians Football Club is based in Pune, Maharashtra. The club have played in the top tier of the Pune Football League since their formation in 1987 and have played in the I-League from 2016. A direct entry into the league, they are immune to relegation for until 2018.
Goalkeepers: Subrata Pal, Abhishek Das, Rakshit Dagar, Soram Anganba
Defenders: Nirmal Chettri, Ricky Lallawmawma, Saša Kolunija, Jerry Lalrinzuala, Lalnunsiama, Sairaut Kima, Mohammad Sajid Dhot, Amey Ranawade, Kamlesh Nadar, Maan Singh.
Midfielders: Shane McFaul, Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Juan Quero, Sanju Pradhan, Rohit Kumar, K. Lalthathanga, Biaklain Paite, Vanlalremkima, Milan Singh, Lalhriatpuia Changte
Forwards: Lallianzuala Chhangte, Kim Song-yong, Holicharan Narzary, Naro Hari Shrestha, Lalawmpuia, Sumeet Passi, Arif Shaikh, Pranjal Bhumij
Players to watch: With abundant experience in his armoury, Juan Quero will put all his skills in the middle to take his team through the league. The Spanish winger already has a number of assists under his name to support his case from last season. His deliveries from the flanks, both from free-kicks and crosses threatened the defenders in the opposition box. Also his adaptation to the subcontinent will help him a lot.
Manager: Dave Rogers | Dave Rogers is a former English footballer who played most of his career in the League of Ireland. Rogers has a knack of identifying talent and nurturing them into top footballers. He worked with the DSK U-18 and U-19 I-League teams and took them to consecutive finals.
Previous Performances: DSK Shivajians finished in the 9th place in their inaugural campaign. They had the lowest number of wins with the worst goal difference in the season. There are some positives to take from last season when they went unbeaten 7 games in a row but they managed only two wins in the streak.
Season’s target: Finishing at the bottom in the previous campaign, Shivajians should definitely aim to improve this time around. With the tie up with Liverpool, they should be aiming at setting standards to other clubs and avoiding the drop would be their prime target.
Based in Kolkata, East Bengal is one of the most popular and reputed football club in India. Formed in 1920, East Bengal is one of the few teams to have participated in the National Football League and is the only team to have stayed in the top-flight of the country since then(National Football League and I-League).
Goalkeepers: Subhasish Roy Chowdhury, Rehenesh TP, Luis Barreto, Dibyendu Sarkar, Abhishek Pal
Defenders: Robin Gurung, Arnab Mondal, Ivan Bukenya, Rahul Bheke, Gurwinder Singh, Narayan Das, Robert Lalthlamuana, Samad Ali Mallick, Anwar Ali, Koushik Sarkar, Deepak Kumar
Midfielders: Mohammed Rafique, Jackichand Singh, Mehtab Hossain, David Lalrinmuana, Lalrindika Ralte, Bikash Jairu, Cavin Lobo, Nikhil Poojari, Romeo Fernandes, Abhinas Ruidas, Prohlad Roy
Forwards: Willis Plaza, Wedson Anselme, Thongkhosiem Haokip, Robin Singh, Jiten Murmu, Ildar Amirov, PV Suher
Players to watch: Rowlin Borges is one player to watch in this side as he can be pivotal in the midfield. Playing as a deep lying playmaker, also breaking up play and making runs into the box are his excellent traits. Also, Willis Plaza with brutality and physical strength will prove to be a great threat in the opposition box. If he can improve his finishing accuracy, then East Bengal have more than a decent chance of winning the I-League.
Manager: Trevor Morgan | Coaching at the age of 60, Trevor Morgan has more than enough experience in Indian Football. In his first stint at East Bengal, he spent three years. In that time, he won the Calcutta Football League thrice and finished twice in second place in the I-League. Under his guidance the club remained unbeaten at a stretch, for a record of 30 times in a calendar year. He was the most successful coach of East Bengal and one of the most successful foreign coaches of Indian football .
He has also had a hand in coaching the ISL team Kerala Blasters. In the next year, he returned to I-League with Dempo in the mid-season but it ended in a disaster when they were sent packing after relegation. He was then appointed by East Bengal in the previous campaign where he finished in 3rd place.
Previous Performances: East Bengal can be regarded as the unluckiest team in the I-League. This trophy has eluded them ever since its inception in 2007. Being one of the consistent teams in the I-League by finishing in the top four continuously, East Bengal have built quite a reputation for themselves in the league and even in the Asian competitions. In the last season they finished in the 3rd place behind champions Bengaluru and their local rivals and runners-up, Mohun Bagan.
Season’s target: This could possibly be East Bengal’s final chance to win the I-League given that the Indian Super League (ISL) could possibly be the top division league from the year 2018. Hence they would definitely aim to push for the title this time around.
Based in Chandigarh, Punjab, Minerva Punjab Football Club was established in 2005. In 2015, the club made its participation for the first time in the national level when they played in the 2nd division I-League. Minerva became the first club from the Indian state of Punjab to feature in the I-League after JCT FC which was disbanded after the 2010-11 season.
Goalkeepers: Ravi Kumar, Arshdeep Singh, Kamaljit Singh
Defenders: Ramandeep Singh, Gurjinder Kumar, Nuruddin Sameer, Vishal Kumar, Arashpreet Singh, Kamalpreet Singh, Palsang Lama, Loveday Enyinnaya, Deepak Devrani, Jovel Martins, Harpreet Singh, Prosenjit Chakraborty
Midfielders: Anirudh Thapa, Vinit Rai, Simranjit Singh, Souvik Das, Germanpreet Singh, Altamash Sayed, Altamash Sayed, Bedeshwor Singh, Boaringdao Bodo
Forwards: Manandeep Singh, Uttam Rai, Joel Sunday, Krishna Pandit, Victor Amobi, Rakesh Oram, Moinuddin Khan
Players to watch: Four goals in nine I-League appearances and two in the Federation Cup made a decent signing in Joel Sunday into a main-man for Aizawl FC in the previous campaign. His goal scoring capabilities and partnership with Alfred Jaryan proved to be lethal in their cup run.
Another Nigerian Loveday Eyinnaya will be important in the defensive side. He was an integral part of the defence last season for Sporting Goa and one can expect him to perform well should Minerva stay tight at the back.
Manager: Surinder Singh | Surinder Singh took charge of Minerva Punjab in 2015. He led them to the final round and a runner-up position in the 2nd division of the I-League last season. From the performances of the Warriors in the last season, it can be suggested that Singh is more of a conservative coach.
Previous Performances: Coming into the I-League as the debutants this season, Minerva Football Academy finished the last season 2nd division I-League as runners up. The club missed out on straight promotion when they lost 2 games and drew 3 games in the final round. However the club gained their promotion when the first place Dempo pulled out of the I-League.
Season’s target: Having achieved promotion into the top tier, staying there will be their ambition. They should target to avoid the drop this season.
Mohun Bagan Athletic Club, the oldest existing football club in India, was founded in the year 1889. They were awarded with the honour as National Club of India exactly after a century in the year 1989 by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Mohun Bagan is also most importantly known for its rivalry with East Bengal which is known as the Kolkata Derby. The first derby game between these two long-time rivals was played nearly 95 years ago. The club has won the 1st division of the country four times – National Football League(thrice) and I-League(once).
Goalkeepers: Debjit Majumder, Shilton Paul, Pawan Kumar, Shibinraj K
Defenders: Sarthak Golui, Eduardo, Raju Gaikwad, Anas Edathodika, Shouvik Ghosh, Pritam Kotal, Prabir Das, Kingshuk Debnath, Subhasish Bose
Midfielders: Katsumi Yusa, Souvik Chakraborty, Bikramjit Singh, Pronay Halder, Sehnaj Singh, Kean Lewis, Sony Norde, Pankaj Moula, Robinson Singh, Sourav Das, Raynier Fernandes
Forwards: Darryl Duffy, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Balwant Singh, Azharuddin Mallick
Players to watch: 2016 AIFF POTY, Jeje Lalpekhula is not only one of the best players in the club but also one of the best in the league. Jeje had a wonderful 2016 as he ousted the likes of Sunil Chhetri and others to clinch the POTY award. He should continue his form if Mohun Bagan see themselves as title contenders this season.
Also Sony Norde’s inspiring run of form in this domestic competition for the past two seasons is very vital from Bagan’s point of view. Arguably the best player in the league for the last two seasons, he possesses everything including pace, trickery and goals as well.
Manager: Sanjoy Sen | With very little experience at top level, Sanjoy Sen was brought into the foray after Mohun Bagan removed Subash Bhowmick. After finishing in the 8th place under Subash, things started looming as if Mohun Bagan were going to fail the next season under the new boss. But to everyone’s surprise Sen steadied the ship and won the title in his 1st season in-charge.
But his personal conduct derailed his team’s title defence in the previous campaign when he received a touch-line ban. He is a manager who doesn’t hide his feelings and he was punished for the same. However he did go on to win the Federation Cup title last season.
Previous Performances: Having started the league as defending champions in the last season, Mohun Bagan got off to a brilliant start. They went undefeated in the first 11 games with 7 wins in it. Two straight defeats against Aizawl and in the derby started their poor run of form. They drew in the two games that came next and the title was stolen by Bengaluru who capitalized on Bagan’s slip. All these four games were in the absence of Sanjoy Sen when he was facing his touch-line ban forced by the AIFF.
Season’s target: Having won the title in 2015 after 7 tries, Mohun Bagan should aim to repeat the feat as history supports them. No team in the league has defended the title since its inception and if the pressure catches Bengaluru, the chances for them to win the title are quite bright.
Based in Mumbai, Maharashtra, Mumbai FC was started in the year 2007. The club gained promotion to the I-League in 2008, and finished 7th in their maiden I-League campaign in 2008–09 season. The club was started with an aim of developing football from its Grassroots in this region of the country and also provide a platform to support the young aspiring footballers in the city to reach the global stage. This can be defined as a modern club which has started to develop football through good-old fashioned ways.
Goalkeepers: K. Sawant, S. Patil, L. Kattimani
Defenders: P. Chowdhary, Lalchawnkima, R. Singh, M. Lugun, S. Pires, C. Rao, C. Fernandes, A. Dias, S. Hanghal
Midfielders: H. Sharma, N. Kadam, S. D’Silva, T. Singh, S. Dias, P. Shirodkar
Forwards: F. Choudhary, V. Fernandes, K. Sahwney
Players to watch: The 19-year old duo of Hitesh Sharma and Choudhary will be decisive in defining Mumbai FC’s plight this season. The 50-year old coach, Santosh Kashyap, who is known for churning out raw talents into extraordinary material will be eager to the test the skill set of these two young lads.
Manager: Santosh Kashyap | After the exit of Jamil, Mumbai FC appointed Santosh Kashyap in July 2016. The 50-year-old started his managerial career as the U-19 coach of Mahindra United. During his last season with the Mahindra Youth Team, he guided them to the Super Division title in the Mumbai Football League. He worked as an assistant coach at North East United in 2015 ISL and had stints at the helm of Salgaocar and Royal Wahingdoh. He is known for his attacking mentality and attractive football.
Previous Performances: A decent performance in the last season saw them sit at 5th place under Khalid Jamil. Given their lower financial status, the 5th place finish was quite impressive. A 2-0 win over Bengaluru and 4-0 thrashing against DSK Shivajians are the highlights from their performance last season.
Season’s target: After having said that the top three is the position to finish at, the coach will definitely be aiming to finish in that zone. But given their record in the I-League, consistent mid-table finishes, the Mumbaikars should do well to cling onto their top three ambition while cementing their position in the mid-table. Anything less will see them drop the plot and may become a part of the relegation battle.
Shillong Lajong FC
Established in 1983 with the prime objective of improving the declining standard of football in the state, Shillong Lajong FC is based in Shillong, Meghalaya. Shillong Lajong gained promotion to the I-League for the 2009–10 season after joining the I-League 2nd division just an year ago.
Goalkeepers: P. Lachenpa, V. Kaith
Defenders: Sandeep Singh, S. Singh, D. Ignat, N.Tamang, S. Shadap, K. Singh, A. Lyngdoh
Midfielders: I. Vanmalsawma, N. Gurung, R. Nongrum, H. Nongbri, J. Lalfakzuala, A. Deory, Y. Kinowaki, R. Lamare, J. Lalrawngbawla, Lalrammuana, Fabio, Z. Ralte
Forwards: S. Sohktung, M. Basumatary, S. Lalmuanpuia, R. Tlang, Bipin Singh, A. Dipanda
Players to watch: Having retained the services of Fabio Pena, Thangboi Singto will be looking to Pena to provide him with returns. The 26-year-old Brazilian forward will be a huge threat during the set pieces and his hold up play which allows the midfielders to make runs inside the box will be decisive. He made 14 appearances last season in which he banged in four goals with one assist.
Manager: Thangboi Singto | After getting appointed as the interim head coach of the Shilling Lajong FC in January 2014, Singto guided his side to gain 15 points from 17 matches with three wins, six draws and eight losses. He started his career as an assistant coach at the same club in 2009 and was given over the responsibility when Des Bulpin was sacked. His impressive performance to lead the side out of relegation saw him given the permanent role as the coach.
Previous Performances: With just 4 wins from 16 games, Shillong Lajong finished their campaign at 6th place under Thangboi Singto. Last season, they produced inconsistent performances as they started the campaign with a draw and a loss in the first two games. They were thumped to a 4-0 defeat at the hands of East Bengal and drew their next four games. Somehow managing to muster 18 points from 16 games, Singto’s men survived the drop.
Season’s target: Knowing that consistency is the only way, Singto and his men should aim for a better place than safety this time around. Given the number of youngsters in their squad, a top half finish can be stated as a decent one.