Just a week into the Indian Super League (ISL) 2016 season, it was already clear that not all was right with the world. North East United FC were top of the table, and FC Goa were at the bottom. Everyone was stunned.
Week two of the league continued on similar lines as NEUFC, despite their slip-up and loss, remained on top. Kerala Blasters hadn’t scored a single goal, and had only managed to get one shot on target. And though they did manage to get a goal soon after, with Michael Chopra scoring, whatever little was right, went wrong again quickly.
Though never a marathon, the league was no sprint either. The top of the table changed constantly. Mumbai held on to the top position the longest – though it proved to be pointless in the end.
But in this turmoil, an ISL trend continued: If you finish on top after the league stage, you will not win the title. In fact, if you finish in the top two, save your hearts and your cheers, as the title is not going your way.
“Well, in a way it’s a good thing because we can’t get any worse,” Steve Coppell said on signing on as Kerala’s coach. He was right; they didn’t get worse, but the pain sure did. It was certainly more exciting this way. After all, what would the league have been without Kerala? Next year, they will try again.
Try again next year should probably be sewed on to Pune City FC and NEUFC’s crests by now. They are the only clubs who haven’t partaken in the semi-finals merry-go-round yet. Everyone else has. Speaking of Pune, we should speak of the manager in the stands.
“When you go to a new club, you are always replacing someone who has gone. That’s football,” was how Jose Molina dealt with his seventh game in charge of Atlético de Kolkata, as they faced up against Pune. Antonio Habas was the man he had replaced. Habas went to Pune, or did he? In the opening five games he wasn’t in the dugout, carrying a ban from last season into this one.
Never carry anything from the past into the new season, is an eternal truth. Unless its form. Form is always good to carry on. And history is always a great motivator. Goa did more of the latter than the former.
Laxmikanth Kattimani passed the ball to the opposition striker Emiliano Alfaro in Goa's opener, starting conversations anew about ball-playing goalkeepers like Claudio Bravo. But he wasn’t alone in making goalkeeping gaffes, or even the worst. That accolade surely goes to Chennaiyin’s 6’3 Jamaican, Duwayne Kerr, also known as, Jamaica’s worst fielder ever. If this wasn’t a dropped catch at point, then nothing makes sense.
Delhi Dynamos’s Souvik Chatterjee racked up the most minutes on the pitch for any player this season, an average of 92 minutes on the pitch. Now before you get your head curling, this statistical anomaly was caused by Delhi’s 120 minute semi-final humdinger against Kerala.
Delhi led in several other charts too. They were ISL’s equivalent of FC Barcelona, with a season high of 7,395 passes, almost a thousand more than Atlético de Kolkata in second. That is an average of 462 passes per game, or five passes every minute.
Atletico won the league, Kerala won the fans and it seems that no one else won anything. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Here are some of the other accolades earned during the recently concluded ISL season:
It could’ve been Pune's Momar Ndoye’s brilliant curling shot against FC Goa. But the clear winner for the best goal of the season was Sameehg Doutie’s screamer against Goa:
Kervens Belfort’s marauding slow step-over brilliance and subsequent finish against Goa deserves a special mention. It's funny how Zico’s Goa side ended up on the receiving end of some of the best goals.
“I said in the beginning of the league that Goa should not have participated this year because when all other teams were preparing themselves, we were facing trials because of last year's fines. So, when we started our season, the first thing that we looked at was who all we can keep from last year's team so that we can continue further, but by that time so many players who we wanted to keep had already signed for other teams, and by the time we got the green signal from the authorities that we could sign players, it had to be done in the last minute,” Zico said, whose side couldn’t score, loved to concede and didn’t even have the consolation of winning any fair play awards.
Best 'Ping-Pong' moment
Picking up on an iconic Bhaichung Bhutia chant, Delhi’s fans, perhaps advised badly, took up what is arguably the worst chant for their marquee player Florent Malouda against Kerala in the semi-final: “Malouda hi Malouda, baaki sab falooda.”
Though the 'Malouda hi Malouda' chant was the worst, it was also one of the most appropriate ones considering the fact that falooda often assists kulfi, and no one had more assists than the French Guyanese genius.
Richarlyson vs the referee. Richarlyson was already on a yellow card, when he went sliding in with both feet up, right under the referee’s nose. In his mind, there was no alternative. Or was there? Richarlyson figured, what most criminals often do, and aimed the ball at the ref’s back. Once sentenced, you can commit more crimes right?
Goa can finally win one award. Their nine-goal thriller against Chennaiyin FC was undoubtedly the match of the season. There was no point to prove. But still, goals are always welcome, especially when the league was so short on them.
Most gracious manager
Without a doubt, it was NEUFC’s Nelo Vingada. Vingada looked like an outstanding economics professor, who spent his off hours in the gym. And then once they were knocked out of contention, like a true professor at the end of a semester, he said what needed to be said in the nicest way possible.
“First, congratulations to Kerala and also to the fantastic people here in Kochi. Coming to the game, Kerala scored and we did not and we had some good chances and Kerala also created some good chances. Also, thanks to Guwahati and we may not have qualified, but we fought till the end.”
Something you never say as a manager
“Maybe they need a lot of people in the stadium and it is not our problem,” said Antonio Lopez Habas, god only knows why.
Cedric Hengbart .Twice he has played for Kerala and twice he has made it to the finals. Third time lucky anyone?
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Updated Date: Dec 21, 2016 11:06:17 IST