Welcome back everyone to India’s top-tier domestic football league, the I-League! After an unforgettable 2015-16 season, this season could potentially turn out to be the most entertaining season yet. This season will feature the reigning champions, Bengaluru FC, under new leadership as their first head coach, Ashley Westwood left the club after three years, two league titles, and one Federation Cup. In comes Albert Roca though. The former El Salvador head coach comes in having to fill some heavy shoes and we have already seen a taste of what he could do with Roca guiding Bengaluru FC past Malaysian powerhouse Johor in the AFC Cup before seeing his side only lose 1-0 to Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya in the final. Can Roca match the expectations established by Westwood at Bengaluru FC or will the pressure be to much?
Elsewhere around the league, the Kolkata clubs, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, retained their head coaches from last season. Trevor Morgan returns for the red and gold while Sanjoy Sen will look to reclaim the I-League title, after winning it in 2015 with Bagan. The green and maroons do have the Federation Cup to boast about though. Both clubs have made some decent signings this offseason, East Bengal bringing in three international foreigners, as well as some top Indian talent such as Rowllin Borges, and Romeo Fernandes, Jackichand Singh. Mohun Bagan have meanwhile brought in I-League mainstay Darryl Duffy to replace Cornell Glenn while retaining Sony Norde and Katsumi Yusa. The club also brought in ISL defender Eduardo Ferreira to replace Luciano Sabrosa and retained their impressive Indian players such as Jeje Lalpekhlua, Souvik Chakraborty, and Debjit Majumdar.
DSK Shivajians have slowly changed their squad from their inaugural season in which they finished last in the I-League. Head coach Derrick Pereira was sacked and in comes Dave Rogers, the Liverpool international academy coach. The club have retained impressive Spanish midfielder Juan Quero while signing the reliable I-League forward Kim Song-yong. The club have also replaced two below average foreigners from last season in Asar Patrick and Pierre Douhou with Bosnian Sasa Kolunija and Irish midfielder Shane McFaul. DSK have also signed some experienced Indian talent with Subrata Pal, Nirmal Chettri, Holicharan Narzary, Sanju Pradhan, and Ricky Lallawmawma coming into the side. The team also has plenty of good youth talent in Lallianzuala Chhangte, Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Sumeet Passi, Milan Singh, and ISL Emerging Player of the Year Jerry Lalrinzuala in their ranks.
Next up in this preview are the three sides which have been relatively quiet this offseason. Aizawl, Mumbai, and Shillong Lajong have been active but not splashy. Aizawl are the only side of the three to officially announce any foreigners with Alfred Jaryan being retained and Nigerian defender Eze Kingsley Obumneme being signed. Mumbai will come into this season with a new coach for the first time this decade as Santosh Kashyap comes in to replace Khalid Jamil. Jamil, later on, signed for Aizawl as their new head coach, replacing Jahar Das. Mumbai will come into this season with a youthful and energetic squad with a nice little mix of experience in their. Guys such as Steven Dias, Chinta Chandrashekar Rao, and Thoi Singh will be relied upon to help the squad while young guys like Jayesh Rane can also be used. Shillong Lajong, under Thangboi Singto again, will be interesting to see once they bring in their foreigners.
Finally, the I-League has some new flavor in it with the inclusion of Minerva Punjab FC and Chennai City. Minerva Punjab have so far created young but seemingly decent side so far. Retaining their head coach from the 2nd Division last season, Surinder Singh, the club have so far confirmed the likes of Manandeep Singh, Deepak Devrani, Vinit Rai into the squad that is pretty much largely inexperienced in the I-League. Their foreigners include Joel Sunday and recently Loveday Enyinnaya. Neither inspire much confidence for the new club from Punjab. Same can be said for Chennai City, who brought in two lower, lower division Brazilian players so far as foreigners. Their head coach, Robin Charles Raja, will have to use what little he has here. Dharmaraj Ravanan and Karanjit Singh constitutes the club’s experience while the rest are either young or inexperienced at this level or both. This season will be very interesting for both these sides as expectations should be held for both sides.
And then we have Churchill Brothers to round out the I-League teams. They have Joseph Afusi and Anthony Wolfe,not much really known here (as of January 1) so ya, let’s go Goa’s only I-League team this year!
Overall this is setting up to be one of the most interesting seasons of the I-League yet. The top sides have set themselves up well for the title challenge, other clubs have improved their squads to also compete, and we are now able to expose our wonderful league to two new, underserved, areas of India. Who shall come out on top come the end of the season? Who will taste the bitterness of relegation? What is to come after the season? All of this shall start to unravel itself come January 7 in the I-League.
Saturday, 7 January 2016:
– East Bengal vs. Aizawl (16:30; Barasat Stadium).
– Bengaluru FC vs. Shillong Lajong (19:00; Sree Kanteerava Stadium).
Sunday, 8 January 2016:
– Chennai City vs. Minerva Punjab (16:30; Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium).
– Mumbai vs. DSK Shivajians (19:00; Cooperage Ground).
– Mohun Bagan vs. Churchill Brothers (19:00; Rabindra Sarobar Stadium).
(This article is written by our Forum Member Rohan Ahluwalia)