I-League 2016-17 Season Preview



Finally after the now customary pre-season drama, the countries premier football league is upon us , albeit in another avatar {thanks to the incompetence of its CEO Sunando Dhar}

Bengaluru FC will be looking to defend their title under the all new coaching staff of Albert Roca / Carles Cuidrat ; their main competition for the title will come from the 2 Kolkata Giants. Ironically BFC have been signing players along the lines of Kolkata clubs, as opposed to their more structured long term approach.

East Bengal too have been extremely active in the transfer market with their acquisitions of foreign strikers Wedson Ansleme & Alex Akinde.  The new foreign defender IVAN BUKANYA will have to settle in quickly alongside Anwar Ali , in the absence of the experienced India international Arnab Mondal. The plethora of attacking talents at KEB will give the returning Trevor Morgan some selection headaches.

Last season runners-up Mohun Bagan ,have the stability of Sanjoy Sen to ensure they will be contenders once again. An easy AFC Cup group with minimal travel issues should also alleviate the issues they faced last season. As long as he doesn’t open his mouth to criticise the AIFF, he should ensure a repeat of last years performance on the field. The addition of Darryl Duffy is a shrewd masterstroke by Sanjoy da , and the Scotsman , along with Sony Norde and Katsumi Yusa will be the main goal scorers again. Their achilles heal could be their fragile defence, but they should be able to outscore most of their opponents.

The dark horse for the title challenge will be DSK Shivajians. Like fellow direct entry team BFC ,  they too have been splurging in the off season. The retention of pocket dynamo Juan Quero will be a huge boost for Dave Rodgers as he looks to make his coaching debut in the I-League. Some shrewd experienced signings alongside the youthful academy prospects will make them genuine contenders.

The middle of the pack should be made up by the perennial relegation flirts , Mumbai FC & Shillong Lajong FC.  Neither have ben too flamboyant in the transfer market, but the local talent at their disposal , and the experience of their 2 coaches , should ensure that they play spoilsports to the top 3. Their main concern could be the lack of relegation for the teams below them in what appears to be the last season of the I-League.

Churchill FC return to I-league , but could be a shadow of the team we fondly remember. The budgets have clearly been slashed ,as evidenced by the current squad in the GPL. They will strengthen in the coming weeks, but the signing of Joseph Afusi as head coach and rumours of a Bangladeshi player as the Asian quota don’t bode well.

Aizawl FC make up the last of the recognised teams in this I-League, but instead of building on their success of last few seasons , they have regressed in all aspects. A poor performance in the League stages of the MPL , saw them almost miss out on the play-offs. The 4-1 demolition in the 1st leg of the MPL play-offs by eventual Champions Chanmari FC, showed that they lack the squad to compete even in their local league. With some new signings and the acquisition of Khalid Jamil they might be able pull off a few shocks , but one wouldn’t be surprised to see them at the bottom of the table again.

Minerva FC , having finished runners up to Dempo SC in the 2nd Division could justify that they can compete at this level ; having said that , since qualifying , their performance in the Durand Cup and DSK tournament have been largely forgettable. The signing of random Africans and a player from Guam , give a hint to the budgets available. A good start is crucial or the wheels could come off at this club.

Chennai City FC , are the least deserving team in the I-League , having not even competed in the 2nd Division nor do they have the personnel to manage a repeat of BFC. The former team manager of Pune FC ,seems to be the one calling the shots behind the scenes, and the nomination of Ravanan as a captain even before making any formal announcement of the Coach or squad is also worrying , they could be the whipping boys of the league. (the new Bharat FC perhaps ??)

The League kicks off on January 7th , with barely enough time for a proper pre-season for most coaches & teams. Bizarrely 1/3rd of the league will be completed by the months end !!

The League will be interrupted for 2 x 10 day National team camps , so this would mean the League getting dragged out till May 2017. With post ISL and National team fatigue, we could see some freak results, but by an large it could be an exciting race for the title . There will be no late season relegation drama , as it appears all teams will be ” relegated” to the new tier 2 of Indian football