When the Indian Super League – Season 7 kicked-off on November 20 in Goa, one wasn’t sure what one would get to see on the field due to the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic.
And after over a month of nearly nonstop daily ISL football, I can say from what I have seen on screen that ISL-7 has had a strong start into an exceptional season due to the pandemic enforced bio bubble.
So far one can say, FSDL decision to pick Goa as the host state for the whole 2020/21 Indian Super League playing matches across three venues at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Margao, the GMC Athletic Stadium in Bambolim and the Tilak Maidan in Vasco has worked out well.
Rise of young Indian talent
A good sign has been the number of young Indian talent who have shown their game for their respective franchises.
It is a mix be it Suresh Singh Wangjam (Bengaluru FC), Lalengmawia (NorthEast United FC), the trio of Liston Colaco, Mohammed Yasir, Akash Mishra (Hyderabad FC), Bipin Singh (Mumbai City FC), Deepak Tangri (Chennaiyin FC), Alexander Romario Jesuraj (FC Goa), Mobashir Rahman (Jamshedpur FC) or even a national team player like Manvir Singh (ATK Mohun Bagan), who is getting more playing time than ever before and is scoring goals.
Better quality foreigners, especially strikers
But on the other side there are the numerous top foreign strikers who have come to India to play in the ISL. At FC Goa people will have forgotten about Ferran Corominas due to the scoring form of Igor Angulo, while Mumbai City FC bank on the duo of Adam Le Fondre and Bartholomew Ogbeche,
But then there are the top strikers of the last season like last seasons top scorer Nerijus Valskis now in a Jamshedpur FC kit or Fijian hitman Roy Krishna alongside David Williams at ATK Mohun Bagan or Aridane Santana now at Hyderabad FC.
Established players lacking game time
Then there is the issue of established Indian players lacking game time at their clubs due to different reasons. India regular Adil Khan missed out on play time at Hyderabad FC, where the youngsters had initially shown their potential. And like another experienced player in Souvik Chakraborty, he often started from the bench but after three losses his coach might use him more often or he will switch clubs in the winter transfer window.
Another example is Prabir Das, one of the standout players for champions ATK Mohun Bagan last term. Now in a different line-up, Manvir Singh often plays in a more attacking role.
New mix of coaches
Then there is the influence of the new coaches, be it Juan Ferrando at FC Goa, Manolo Marquez at Hyderabad FC, Gerard Nus at NorthEast United FC and Czaba Laszlo at Chennaiyin FC. These coaches in their own right have brought something to the ISL and their respective teams.
While Sergio Lobera’s switch from FC Goa to Mumbai City FC seems to have awoken the Islanders to make them finally title contenders.
A struggling SC East Bengal
And then there are the disappointments. A fact is that SC East Bengal became the latest member of the Indian Super League after a summer of indecision, which made planning and putting everything together a tough challenge, which so far hasn’t worked for the 100 year old legendary club.
Robbie Fowler as the East Bengal head coach has also not really worked so far with the Liverpool legend in a number of post-match interviews raising questions about his Indian contingent and their lack of quality, how the squad has been badly put together but avoiding questions about the foreigners he has brought in.
If Fowler doesn’t soon get a win and controls his post-match frustrations, then the public pressure in Kolkata will get too big and in Goa a head coach could get fired.
Disappointing Odisha FC
A lot was expected from the young brigade at Odisha FC, who over the summer signed a number of talented Indian youngsters. But so far it hasn’t clicked under head coach Stuart Baxter with injuries being one of the problems besides top Indian talent not showing what they can play.
The schedule of ISL-7 due to the pandemic is shorter than in previous years and with a short pre-season following quarantine preceding the season proper, injury concerns were always on the card. And sadly it has impacted means like Michael Soosairaj, Jobby Justin or Sergio Cidoncha missing most of the season.
But this injury concern has resulted in coaches being forced to entrust more Indian players and as mentioned above, a number of youngsters have grasped the chances to the maximum.
A great start to ISL-7 has been in 2020, now we await to see what happens to the competition in 2021. Hopefully it will continue to be as exciting as it has been in the past six weeks.