There is a buzz of excitement in the air as another season of Indian Super League draws closer but unlike previous tournaments, the enthusiasm among the fans have very little to do with big signings. Gone are those days when the franchise's priority was to sign a well-known marquee player who will draw crowds to the stadium. ISL teams are now looking to invest smartly — in players at the peak of their careers or experienced athletes who add a specific skill, such as dictating the pace of the match from the midfield
Here is Firstpost's pick of five foreign recruits who have the potential to make a huge difference in the upcoming season of ISL.
Team: Jamshedpur FC
Tim Cahill fits the description of a typical ISL marquee signing — he is 38-years-old, is a popular footballer having played in the English Premier League, and is probably looking for his last fat pay cheque before hanging the boots. But anyone who has followed the Australian's career will disagree. The forward has aged like wine and has an eye for goal — scored more than 100 goals in the English leagues for Millwall and Everton — which will bring experience into the forward line that should feature Spanish attacking midfielder Sergio Cidoncha, Indian national team forward Sumeet Passi and last I-League season's standout performer Michael Soosairaj. Don't let Cahill's diminutive stature fool you — this guy can lead the line of attack and dominate in the air. It might be a tad unfair to compare the Socceroos legend to Indian captain Sunil Chhetri but the similarities are uncanny — from goal poaching talents to leadership abilities. What a signing, Jamshedpur!
Manuel Lanzarote was, arguably, the most important for FC Goa last season with 13 goals and six assists. Dynamic in the wings and peerless in distribution, the Spaniard formed an excellent partnership with striker Ferran Corominas (Coro), and was the driving factor behind the Goan club's run till the playoffs. But differences with the team management and head coach Sergio Lobera has seen the midfielder jump base from one football hub to another, this time Kolkata, to be part of Steve Coppell's ATK this season. The two-time ISL winners, after a dismal showing in the 2017-18 season, have added senior players to the squad such as former Bengaluru FC defender John Johnson, midfielder Gerson Vieira and last season's third highest goalscorer Kalu Uche, in a bid to regain their lost title. Lanzarote is a safe bet, having already proven his credentials in India, and if he can form a partnership similar to what he had with Coro in Goa, then ATK are in for a treat.
Team: FC Goa
How do you replace arguably your best player from last season? By signing a younger replica? In Palanca, FC Goa have secured themselves the service of a hardworking winger who will whip in crosses aplenty and in theory, at least, do exactly what Lanzarote did last season. The former Real Madrid player is likely to be successful at filling the void left by Lanza, considering coach Lobera's love for smooth, possession-based, attacking football with the focus on width. Palanca has a wealth of experience playing in the Spanish top division and also played with striker Coro at Espanyol and Elche. Having joined the team mid-August must have given the Spaniard enough time to settle and get himself fit for the gruelling season ahead. Lanzarote and Coro produced 31 goals for FC Goa last season? Can Palanca help improve that tally for the Gaurs?
Team: NorthEast United
If NorthEast United are to shed the tag of being ISL's perennial underachievers this season, their foreign recruits will have to come out all guns blazing because the team falls a little short in the number of quality Indian players, with only Rowllin Borges a noteworthy name. Luckily for them, former PSG and Middlesbrough striker, Batholomew (Bath) Ogbeche, has begun his life with the Highlanders with a bang. The Nigerian striker scored five goals in pre-season, including two braces, and would be hoping to do what former prolific strikers Emiliano Alfaro or Nicolas Velez could not do — guide the team to the playoffs. Coach Eelco Schattorie said his team wasn't a "Mini Cooper or Ferrari" in a press conference ahead of the tournament. He might not have the complete car, but he certainly has a damn good engine in Ogbeche.
Team: Kerala Blasters
History suggests Kerala Blasters have a knack of picking up a good central defender. Sandesh Jhingan has made himself a national team regular with his performances for the Blasters. Cedric Hengbart, Aaron Hughes, Wes Brown all impressed with their defensive nous in the backline for the team from Kerala. This year the defensive duty will lie on the shoulders of 34-year-old French defender Cyril Kali, especially with Jhingan's international centre-back pair, Anas Edathodika, banned for three matches. Though Kali has played as left-back in the pre-season, he would be expected to take up a more central role. While not the tallest Kali is a hard-tackler and with quality full-backs in shortage, Blasters might even opt for a 3-man defence with Kali or Jhingan taking up the sweeper role.
Updated Date: Sep 26, 2018 20:54:10 IST