The seventh edition of HERO Indian Super League is all set to kick off on 20th November with a clash between Kerala Blasters vs ATK Mohun Bagan.
After seven months of wait, ISL will start behind closed doors in Goa. Earlier with Goa, Kolkata and Kerala were the places chosen where ISL could be held. But due to good facilities of training grounds and availability of 3 well in condition stadiums FSDL and AIFF made their decision to conduct the league in Goa. The league will comprise 11 teams as one new club has been added. During the league stage competition, each club will play 20 matches against the other in a round-robin style. The top 4 teams will be in a playoff round where semi-finals will be of two-legs each while the final is going to be a one-legged game where the champion will be decided. In addition to those games, three ISL teams have continental matches to compete with other Asian teams. FC Goa will be the first club from India to play in AFC Champions League. ATK Mohun Bagan has qualified for the AFC Cup group stage while Bengaluru FC will attempt to make their place in the group stage of the AFC Cup by playing in the playoff round.
The interest of European clubs have massively increased in the growing Indian football market. In mid-season of 2019-20 ISL season, renowned City Football Group Ltd. acquired a majority stake in Mumbai City FC. As the ISL season concluded after ATK being the Champions, fresh news lashed over football fans about a merger with I-League club Mohun Bagan. The newly merged club came into existence on June 1, 2020. The RSPG Group, which owned ATK FC, holds the majority of shares in Mohun Bagan.
Another Kolkata based club East Bengal have fixed their entry into ISL after many twists and turn events. The century-old club was in search of new investors after Quess Corporation parted ways. Shree Cement Ltd., the leading cement production company showed their interest and quickly took over the club. After an official bidding process held by FSDL and AIFF jointly, Shree Cement East Bengal was granted entry to ISL which was officially announced on the 27th of September. Robbie Fowler is the new head coach who formerly managed Brisbane Roar in A-League season 2019-20.
Fans saw a major change in club coaches as 9 out of 11 clubs have chosen new Head-Coaches for the upcoming season. Sergio Lobera and Owen Coyle were appointed at Mumbai City FC and Jamshedpur FC respectively. Surprisingly, Hyderabad FC becomes the club who parted ways with newly appointed Albert Roca even before the season started. Albert Roca made his way towards FC Barcelona after he received an ambitious offer from Spain. Former Mohun Bagan coach Kibu Vicuna was elected by Kerala Blasters while Northeast United and FC Goa lend the position to young coaches like Juan Ferrando and Gerard Nus respectively. Odisha FC roped in an experienced coach Stuart Baxter and Chennaiyin FC appointed Csaba Laszlo.
ATK Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC have shown faith in coaches keeping them long more as possible.
The off football season was fascinating due to the football transfer window. Famous Indian footballers switched clubs. Centre-Back, Sandesh Jhingan joined defending champions side ATK Mohun Bagan while Left-Back Nishu Kumar found his way to Kerala Blasters. The Golden Boot winner of ISL 2019-20, Nerijus Valskis, and 28-year-old Left-Back Mandarrao Dessai followed their former coaches to a new club. New entrants SC East Bengal signed the experienced Indian International Jeje Lapekhlua. Mumbai City FC showed their power by paying a record release clause fee of 1.6 crores (INR) to sign Hugo Boumous from FC Goa. As every club should have a mandatory one Asian player, the A-League of Australia has been the primary market to sign players. Every team has tried to make the best experienced foreign recruitments who earlier plied their trade in various leagues of the world.
Let’s have a look the schedule of upcoming ISL season –
As FIFA has permitted to implement 5 substitution rules due to the pandemic situation, it will be delightful to look out how coaches will use the players and rule the field. The COVID-19 pandemic has adversely affected every club in some or other ways of restricting training sessions and other things. With no doubt, every team will put up their heart and soul to give their best performance.