ISL 2016: Atletico de Kolkata's emergence, lack of goals and other things we learned this season
Here are a few things we learned from the just-concluded Indian Super League (ISL) season.
For the first time in the short history of Indian Super League, the title decider went to a penalty shootout this season. Cagey exchanges in finals have become commonplace; this time round, it took the lottery of penalties to separate two teams that were arguably not the two best sides in ISL 2016.
A familiar script was rendered more familiar by Atletico de Kolkata’s win: their second title triumph in three seasons that makes the Kolkata outfit the most successful ISL team, at least until ISL 4 comes round.
Mumbai City FC made it past the league phase for the first time in ISL history, while there was a sense of déjà vu for NorthEast United and FC Pune City, both of whom once again flattered to deceive. Here are a few things we learned from the just-concluded Indian Super League season.
Where have the goals gone?
If the 2015 season of ISL was a sign of a goal-laden future, ISL 2016 showed that the league went a step or two back as far as scoring goals was concerned. 2014 saw 129 goals scored, which spiked last year when 186 goals were pumped in in ISL 2015. That trajectory in the goals department suffered a dip this term, as only 145 goals were scored at a rate of 2.38 per game.
It is unusual to see an average of three goals per game across an entire campaign; even the top European leagues rarely cross the three goals a game rate. Perhaps, 2015 was a statistical quirk in ISL’s history, but more than the goals, it was the way most games panned out that must be a worry.
Matches ending in a 1–1 draw were the highest this season, and only eight of the 61 matches this season witnessed five goals or more. That perhaps points to the general nature of the competition, a blueprint that could become the norm in the future. Interestingly, Atletico de Kolkata registered the fewest wins of the top four sides in the league phase, and drew eight of their 14 matches.
In a league at an embryonic stage at large, such pragmatism makes for a far from ideal advert for the competition. Hopefully, there will be more goals in 2017.
The failure of the proven lot
In the two seasons before this, three managers had carved their reputations as specialists of the league: Antonio Habas, Marco Materazzi and Zico. Two of them had won the competition, and neither had ever failed to make the playoffs.
However, this edition saw the proven trio miss out on the playoffs, making way for a fresh set of faces to upset the established order. Habas’ old team — ATK — showed that winning remains part of their DNA with or without the Spaniard, while Materazzi’s Chennaiyin FC and Zico’s FC Goa were off the playoffs reckoning right from the start.
In José Molina, ATK’s title-winning head coach, the champions struck gold, while there was little for Delhi Dynamos and Mumbai City to complain about their respective head coaches: Gianluca Zambrotta and Alexandre Guimarães.
That Kerala Blasters’ Steve Coppell was named as the head coach of the team of the season, showing the canny 61-year-old still retains his managerial nous, despite his stint in India having been his first outside England.
Should the aforementioned lot hang around for the next season of ISL, it would make for a fascinating battle: the proven ones trying to make amends for this season’s shambles against the new guard.
A season of positives for the Indian players
The number of goals scored by Indians in ISL 2016 came down to 34 from last season’s 48, but that is perhaps skewed by the overall regression of goals this season. However, there should be little to no argument about the improvement shown by the local players.
Kerala Blasters’ CK Vineeth was one of the outstanding Indian players. Vineeth top scored among the Indian players with five goals, but, as with Bengaluru FC in the AFC Cup, his ISL campaign ended with a runner-up medal.
Delhi Dynamos’ trio of Kean Lewis, Milan Singh and Souvik Chakraborty were three of the top performers of this season until they ran out of gas in the semifinals. Sandesh Jhingan, Anas Edathodika, Mehtab Hossain, and Mohammed Rafi were, as expected, the star turns, along with Mumbai City’s goalkeeper Amrinder Singh. Amrinder’s team-mate at Mumbai, Sunil Chhetri, didn’t quite have a season to remember.
Chennaiyin FC’s 18-year-old full-back Jerry Lalrinzuala turned out to be a real gem, as did ATK’s young wingers Abinash Ruidas and Bidyananda Singh. Their emergence bodes well for Indian football.
Three cheers for the Kerala fans
If the Indian Super League has acquired an identity after three seasons, it is the noisy sea of yellow at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi. The Kerala fans clad in their team’s colours were relentless; the Blasters’ league record of six consecutive home wins can be largely attributed to their passionate support who make their home ground an intimidating prospect for opponents.
It was a shame to not see Kerala lift the trophy in front of their fans in the final, but that perhaps showed why ATK were the deserved champions. Molina’s side were the only team to come away from the cauldron-like backdrop of Kochi with a win in ISL 2016; they also held their nerves in the final.
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