Right from the first season of the ISL, we have seen foreign players from Europe and South America joining the league. Some of them had played in the 2nd and 3rd divisions of Europe, while others were Marquee players featuring in some of the major tournaments of the world like FIFA World Cup, UEFA Champions League, Euro Cup and Copa America. A few among the latter were getting ready for the next stage of their career. As a part of that, they signed for Indian clubs as player-managers. Here are the top 5 player-managers of ISL.
5. Robbie Keane
Robert David Keane who is famously known as ‘Robbie Keane’ was born in Dublin, Ireland. He started playing football at the age of 10 for the local schoolboy team Crumlin United. He made his professional debut at the age of 17 for Wolverhampton Wanderers and scored a brace. In the 1998-99 season, he became the top-scorer for Wolves by scoring 16 goals and was also impressive playing for the Ireland national team.
After a short stint with Wolves, he joined the Premier League club Coventry City debuting against Derby County to score two goals. Robbie had 34 caps under his belt for Coventry City and registered his name on the scoresheet 12 times. After impressing his suitors in Premier League, he was sold to Inter Milan for 13 million euros on a 5-year deal. His dream move to Italy took a halt when manager Marcelo Lippi got sacked. Lippi’s successor Marco Tardelli didn’t see Keane fitting into his style of play as a result of that, he was loaned out to Premier League club Leeds United.
Robbie was off to an impressive start scoring 9 goals in the first 14 games but as the season progressed he lost his form to end up with only 9 goals out of 33 appearances. After his lacklustre performance for Leeds United, he joined north-London club Tottenham Hotspurs. He spent 8 seasons at the club and has 122 goals and 25 assists to his name out of 305 appearances. His impressive stats with Tottenham attracted their rivals Liverpool and he joined the Merseyside club in 2008 for 19 million euros.
In 2009, Tottenham made a 12 million euros bid to buy Robbie Keane and Liverpool allowed the Irishman to return to his former club. In February 2010 he joined Scottish giants Celtic on a loan deal. He scored his first goal against Dufermline in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup. On 30 January 2011, he came back to England on loan for West Ham United and scored a goal on his debut in the 3-1 victory against Blackpool. After playing for the newly reformed New York Cosmos in a testimonial game, he joined the MLS club LA Galaxy. On 6th November in his first full game, he scored in a 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake to book a place in the 2011 MLS cup. Keane agreed to join Aston Villa on a loan deal until MLS season kicked off.
On 4th August Keane put a pen on paper to sign for ATK as a player to rejoin his former team mate Teddy Sheringham who was then the coach of the team. After the sacking of Teddy and Ashley Westwood, Robbie was appointed as player-manager of ATK in 2018. Assuming the role of player-manager for the last 3 games, he left the club at the end of the season. Keane officially announced his retirement from football on 28 November 2018.
4. Nicolas Anelka
PSG youth product Nicolas Anelka was born in Le Chesnay, France. At the age of 17, he was signed by Arsenal for 500,000 pounds and he scored his first goal against traditional rivals Manchester United. Anelka was influential in winning the Premier League and the FA Cup that season. He scored the winning goal against Newcastle United in the final of the FA Cup.
In the summer of 1999, he joined Real Madrid for 22.3 million pounds but he failed to score in Real Madrid in his first five months and finally broke the deadlock against Al-Nassr in FIFA Club World Cup. In February 2000 he scored his first La Liga goal in a 3-0 victory against rivals FC Barcelona. In that season’s Champions League triumph Anelka was impressive, scoring in both legs of the semi-finals and also starring in the final game. In July 2000, he re-joined his home club Paris-Saint-Germain F.C. and was appointed as the Captain of the club.
After two and half years Anelka joined Liverpool on a short-term loan deal and scored 5 goals. On 24 May 2002, he joined Manchester City for 13 million pounds and became the top scorer for them by scoring 14 goals, including the last goal of Manchester Derby at Maine Road. In the second season, he was the top scorer again with 25 goals in their new home ‘City of Manchester Stadium’. In January 2005 he joined Turkish club Fenerbahce for 17 million pounds and helped them to win SuperLig and played with them in UEFA Cup and UEFA Champions League a season after. In August 2006 he came back to Premier League and joined Bolton Wanderers. He scored his first goal for the Wanderers in a League Cup game against Walsall.
On 11th January 2008, he joined Chelsea for 15 million pounds. In the 2008-09 season, he won the Golden Boot award and went on to make 184 appearances for Chelsea scoring 59 goals. On 1st January 2012, he joined Chinese Super League club Shangai Shenhua for 12 million pounds and scored his first goal in 40 seconds in a pre-season friendly game against Hunan Billows. After a short stint with the Chinese club, he joined West Bromwich Albion on a free transfer.
On 15th September 2014, he joined ISL club Mumbai City FC as a player-manager. Owing to a 3 match global ban he made deferred debut on 28 October 2014 against Chenniayin FC where they lost 5-1. He scored his first goal in his first home game against Kerala Blasters. He played 7 games and scored 2 goals that season but finished 7th on the table. In the next season, he played 11 games and didn’t score a single goal.