The emergence of the ISL as the premier league in India, rewarded with a place in the prestigious AFC Champions League group stage for the first time, has coincided with some inspiring performances from youngsters and some striking partnerships, both on and off the field.
First for the youngsters. Let’s start with Sumit Rathi. The 20-year-old central defender for ATK has made a place in Antonio Habas’ starting XI his own, ever since he came into the team with his fearless defending. In a star-studded team, he made 11 appearances and started 10 of them as part of a stingy ATK defence that conceded just 18 goals in 20 matches.
Bengaluru FC’s Suresh Singh Wangjam is yet another youngster who earned rave reviews for his performances. He was blooded in by Carles Cuadrat midway through the season and the 19-year-old has since become a regular fixture.
“He (Suresh) has been helping us a lot. He is doing a wonderful job. He was creating chances in attack and helping in defence. He is having an impressive season. I am sure that he will soon have an opportunity in the national team as well,” said Cuadrat, lavish in his praise for the youngster.
Roy Krishna and David Williams have been absolutely brilliant for one of the finalists, ATK. The Fiji-Aussie combo has fired when ATK needed them, most recently in the play-offs against Bengaluru FC where Krishna scored one and Williams struck two. Krishna has contributed 15 goals and five assists while Williams has seven goals and four assists to his name.
“It is good for us to have top strikers like Krishna and Williams. They are in good form and that is a big advantage for us,” said ATK coach Antonio Habas.
Then there is Rafael Crivellaro and Nerijus Valskis for the other finalists, Chennaiyin FC. The duo was instrumental in their dream run to the final. While Valskis has 14 goals and six assists, Crivellaro has seven goals and eight assists.
Who can forget Hugo Boumous (11 goals, 10 assists) and Ferran Corominas (14 goals, 4 assists)? Their telepathic understanding helped FC Goa top the league stages. The partnership between Bartholomew Ogbeche (15 goals) and Raphael Messi Bouli (8 goals) also produced dividends for Kerala Blasters, although they could not make it to the play-offs.
However, it is not just on-field partnerships that have sparkled. Several key off-field agreements have illustrated the league as well. The City Football Group, who own Manchester City, bought a majority stake in Mumbai City FC, a landmark deal in the progress it would bring to Indian football.
"We believe that this investment will deliver transformative benefits to Mumbai City FC, to City Football Group and to Indian football as a whole. City Football Group is committed to the future of football in India and to the potential for Mumbai City FC within that future,” said Chairman of City Football Group Khaldoon Al Mubarak.
Then ATK joined hands with Mohun Bagan which will see the century-old club ply its trade in the ISL next season.
All in all, it has been an exciting and eventful season. All it requires is a fitting finale in Goa on Saturday.