The Indian Super League was launched in 2014 with the aim of developing domestic talent and increasing global awareness of Indian football. While it’s still too early to determine the ISL’s influence on the quality of Indian footballers, the inaugural season of the competition delivered on the latter objective through the dazzling talent teams were able to attract.
The list of marquee players in the 2014 ISL reads more like the sterling cast of a Nike advert rather than the leading signings for a tournament’s first edition. Admittedly, most of these players were in the twilight of their glittering careers, with many using their time in the ISL as a swansong. The ISL was never going to be able to tempt leading players in the same manner as its cricketing equivalent, the Indian Premier League, but then India is one of the world’s foremost cricketing powers.
Football has a lot of catching up to do in that regard, but any Indian footballer who had the benefit of training with the ISL’s marquee signings in 2014 should have picked up a thing or two. Here’s a quick look at the players and managers that were persuaded to come and join the start of something special.
Atlético de Kolkata – Champions
Former Valencia boss Antonio Lopez guided ATK to the title, with compatriot and former Liverpool star Luis Garcia as the marquee signing.
Kerala Blasters – Runner-up
England international goalkeeper David James acted as player and manager, while Iain Hume traded the English lower leagues for the ISL. Hume would go on to be prolific for ATK in future seasons.
Chennaiyin – Losing semi-finalist
Marco Materazzi, the Italian headbutted by Zinedine Zidane en route to winning the 2006 World Cup, was player-manager, while Elano fired in eight goals on his way to the Golden Boot. Alessandro Nesta, the legendary defender who won the World Cup alongside Materazzi, and Mikael Silvestre also headed to Chennai.
Goa – Losing semi-finalist
The legendary Brazil midfielder Zico was at the helm in Goa, with Arsenal invincible Robert Pires and Arsenal flop Andre Santos on board.
Delhi Dynamos – 5th
Belgian manager Harm van Veldhoven took charge of a squad that included the iconic Italian forward Alessandro Del Piero.
Pune City – 6th
The seasoned Italian coach Franco Colomba managed a side including the decorated French forward David Trezeguet and Kostas Katsouranis, one of Greece’s Euro 2004 champions.
Mumbai City – 7th
Experienced English boss Peter Reid took charge of the Mumbai squad. This included Freddie Ljungberg, famously of Arsenal, and the maverick Nicolas Anelka, famously of Arsenal plus a ton of other sides.
NorthEast United – 8th
Long-term New Zealand boss Ricki Herbert couldn’t keep NorthEast off the bottom, even with the experience of Joan Capdevila at his disposal.
One thing becomes evident from comparing finishing positions with marquee signings: having the biggest names is no guarantee of success. When checking out ISL odds on sites where you can bet on football, it’s important not to get drawn in by the marquee signings when it comes to backing a winning team in the outright market. The strength of the domestic players and the quality of less-heralded foreign signings are far more vital to a side’s prospects in the ISL.
It was Mohamed Rafique who popped up with the dramatic winner in ATK’s 1-0 triumph over Kerala in the final, while Indian international forward Jeje Lalpekhlua outscored many more illustrious names in 2014. However, the big names did their jobs at putting the ISL on the map, and hopefully their legacy of inspiring more Indians to take up football will become clear in the coming years.