The Great Indian Football Show
Lowdown on the ISL teams and players
Ownership: Atlético de Kolkata is located at the heartland of Indian football and faces huge expectations. The team is partly owned by Atlético Madrid, the reigning La Liga champions, and an investor group called Kolkata Games and Sports Pvt Ltd, of which Sourav Ganguly, the former Indian cricket captain, is a member.
Head coach: Antonio López Habas has worked at some of Spain’s top football clubs. He has managed the Bolivian national team, Granada CF, Valencia CF’s youth team and been part of the coaching staff at Celta de Vigo.
Players to watch: Atlético has signed some of the country’s best defenders in Denzil Franco, Arnab Mondal and Kinshuk Debnath. Sanju Pradhan is a classy midfielder, while international stars Ofentse Nato, Borja Fernandez and Fikru Teferra could also make a difference.
Marquee signing: Luis Garcia, the former Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, Liverpool and Spain forward, is best known for the five goals (including the winner in the semi-final) he scored in Liverpool’s successful 2005 Champions League campaign. Garcia, now 36, had announced his retirement from football earlier this year and has not played for a top European side since 2011.
Kerala Blasters FC
Ownership: Sachin Tendulkar and serial entrepreneur Prasad V Potluri bought the Kerala franchise in April.
Head coach and marquee signing: Former Manchester City, Liverpool and England goalkeeper David James, 44, will act as player-manager. He will be assisted by Trevor Morgan, who coached East Bengal from 2010 to 2013 and was one of the most successful foreign coaches to have led an Indian side.
Players to watch: Sandip Nandy has often performed heroics in goal for India, while Renedy Singh, who has 72 caps for India, is considered one of the most underrated midfielders in the country. Kerala have also signed British-Indian footballer Michael Chopra, who has played for English Premier League sides Sunderland and Cardiff City.
Delhi Dynamos FC
Ownership: The Delhi Dynamos FC is owned and operated by Delhi-based DEN Networks, a cawble television distribution company. The Dynamos have allied with Dutch club Feyenoord in a deal that will see Feyenoord provide them with players, technical staff and tactical advice.
Head coach: Harm van Veldhoven has coached several top Belgian club sides.
Players to watch: Among all the ISL teams, the Delhi Dynamos have the least glamorous-looking squad. Salgaocar midfielder Francis Fernandes is their best-known Indian player, while forwards Mad Junker and Morten Skoubo have both represented Denmark.
Marquee signing: In his prime, Alessandro Del Piero was the player every team wanted. He is a legend at Italian club Juventus, having scored 290 goals for them over almost two decades. He also scored 27 goals in 91 appearances for Italy. Del Piero is now 39 but is still a threat, as his 24 goals in his past two seasons at Sydney FC show.
North East United FC
Ownership: North East United FC is owned and operated by Bollywood actor John Abraham and I-League club Shillong Lajong.
Head coach: Ricki Herbert is a former New Zealand player and was coach of the New Zealand national team for eight years.
Players to watch: The backbone of the team is its contingent of Shillong Lajong players, which includes 22-year-old midfielder Milan Singh and defenders Robin Gurung and Aibor Khongjee.
Marquee signing: Joan Capdevila was part of the Spanish side that won the 2010 World Cup. A left-back, Capdevila, 36, has played for La Liga sides Deportivo de la Coruna, Villarreal and, till 2014, Espanyol.
Ownership: Initially, Chennaiyin FC, one of the proposed nine teams, was not expected to be a part of the 2014 edition, after a consortium led by former cricketer Sunil Gavaskar dropped out of the bidding process. However, after Bangalore owners, Sun Group, walked out of the ISL, the organisers were in search of an eighth franchise. Luckily, UTV founder Ronnie Screwvala and actor Abhishek Bachchan came to the ISL’s rescue by buying the Chennai team.
Head coach: Marco Materazzi, the former Italy and Inter Milan defender who was on the receiving end of Zinedine Zidane’s infamous head-butt in the 2006 World Cup final, will be Chennaiyin’s player-manager. This is his first coaching assignment, but Materazzi, a World Cup and UEFA Champions League winner as a player, brings plenty of experience to the table.
Players to watch: Defender Gouramangi Singh, who has played 71 times for India, is one of the stars in the line-up. There are some big-name international players in the squad, including French defenders Mikaël Silvestre, who spent nine years playing for Manchester United and played 40 times for France, and Bernard Mendy, who played for Paris Saint-Germain and Hull City.
Marquee signing: Brazilian attacking midfielder Elano was one of Manchester City’s star players between 2007 and 2009 and also scored nine goals for Brazil, including two in the 2010 World Cup. Elano, 33, is one of the youngest big-name international players in the ISL.
Ownership: Cricketer Virat Kohli, Videocon’s founder, Venugopal Dhoot, and Goan businessmen Dattaraj Salgaocar and Shrinivas Dempo, whose rival Goan clubs Salgaocar FC and Dempo SC are among India’s biggest football teams, all own stakes in FC Goa.
Head coach: Brazilian legend Zico, arguably the world’s best player of the late 1970s and early ‘80s, takes the job at FC Goa after having previously managed the Japan and Iraq national teams and European clubs Fenerbahce, CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos.
Players to watch: The team has a strong Goan contingent, in which midfielder Clifford Miranda, who has played 51 times for India, is the biggest name. Australian striker TolgayÖzbey, who has a fantastic scoring record in the I-League (India’s domestic league), and Afghan defender Zohib Islam Amiri, who has been playing for Indian clubs since 2011, are also in Goa’s squad. Former Arsenal and Brazil left-back Andre Santos, 31, was a big last-minute signing.
Marquee signing: Robert Pires, part of Arsenal’s famous team of the early 2000s, is now 40 and comes to FC Goa having not played competitive football for three years.
Mumbai City FC
Ownership: In the land of Bollywood, you expect some masala, so it is no surprise that actor and Barcelona FC fan Ranbir Kapoor is a co-owner of Mumbai City FC.
Head coach: Peter Reid is the most experienced among all the ISL team managers. After his illustrious career as a footballer, he coached English Premier League sides Manchester City and Sunderland and the England Under-21 side.
Players to watch: Mumbai City has picked up five well-known Indian footballers: Deepak Mondal, whose consistent performances for India earned him an Arjuna Award in 2010, Subrata Pal, currently the Indian national team’s first-choice goalkeeper, East Bengal midfielder Lalrindika Ralte, Syed Rahim Nabi, who has 68 caps for India, and defender Raju Gaikwad, who, at 24, has already captained the national side. Mumbai have also bagged the signing of French forward Nicolas Anelka, who has played for several of Europe’s top clubs, including Arsenal, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Chelsea.
Marquee signing: Freddie Ljungberg, who was among the fastest players in the world in the early 2000s, was part of Arsenal’s ‘invincible’ squad that won several trophies in that period. He is coming out of retirement to play for Mumbai.
Ownership: FC Pune City is owned by actor Salman Khan, the Wadhawan Group and Italian football club ACF Fiorentina, which is expected to provide technical expertise and specialised personnel.
Head coach: After years spent managing various Italian club teams, including Napoli and Parma, Franco Colomba has come to FC Pune City.
Players to watch: Lenny Rodrigues, one of India’s best midfielders, will play a crucial role. Pune City have an impressive list of international players, including Kostas Katsouranis, who captained Greece at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Colombian defender Andrés González, Nigerian striker Dudu Omagbemi, who has scored nearly a hundred goals in Indian football, and Adrian Mutu, the Romanian forward who shone at Chelsea and, later, Fiorentina.
Marquee signing: French striker David Trezeguet, perhaps best remembered for his ‘golden goal’ in the Euro 2000 final, scored 138 goals for Juventus over a decade. Though 36, he has still shown goal-scoring form recently, banging in seven for Argentine side Newell’s Old Boys last season.