Once again, the country is all set to usher in the Indian Super League (ISL) frenzy. With the glitzy, glamorous league getting a massive facelift ahead of the sixth season, scheduled to kick off at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium in Kochi on October 20, it is definitely going to be a feast for the country's football fans.
With new coaching staff and new players, the franchises are looking to change the landscape of the forthcoming season and scale new heights in the cash-rich celebrity-endorsed league which has exposed Indian football to a new level of professionalism.
The ISL, in its sixth edition, will witness a five-month module with 10 teams - ATK, Bengaluru FC, Chennaiyin FC, FC Goa, Hyderabad FC, Kerala Blasters FC, Mumbai City FC, NorthEast United FC, Jamshedpur FC and Odisha FC – battling it out for the title. The league phase will end on February 23, 2020.
Hyderabad, a city that boasts of a strong football culture, will see its own team making its debut in the upcoming season, while Delhi Dynamos FC have been rechristened Odisha FC and have shifted base from the national capital to Bhubaneshwar, which has emerged as a sports hub, hosting top events in various Olympic disciplines.
As the 10 teams will play home and away, there will be as many as 90 matches in the preliminary stage of the tournament. The two-legged semifinals and final will take the total number of encounters to 95.
Exciting new entrants
Ahead of the new season, there were widespread speculations that the ISL would be elevated as the premier football league of the country and a promotion-relegation system would be introduced with a bigger pool of team. Though there will be two new franchises for the sixth season, the other proposals remain on paper.
However, the expansion of the league to two new cities might improve the standard of the game in the country as both Hyderabad and Bhubaneshwar have had a glorious footballing past. With the addition of two new franchises, the league is expected to provide soccer aficionados with plenty of mouth-watering action.
Harsh lessons and squad overhaul
Apart from holders Bengaluru FC and runners-up FC Goa, all the other teams have changed their core team of players. Even the defending champions have roped in couple of new players and they will be heading into the new season without one of their crucial members in the past edition – Venezuelan striker Miku.
Teams like Kerala Blasters and NorthEast United are all set for the sixth season with a revamped squad and a new coach at the helm. After a tumultuous last season, former champions ATK and Chennaiyin FC have also completely overhauled their squads in a bid to regain their past glory.
Fresh philosophy and approach
Four of the eight teams that featured in the league’s fifth edition will be going into the new season with a new coach. Eelco Schattorie, who guided NorthEast United FC to the play-offs last season, is the new head coach of Kerala Blasters. After parting ways with Steve Coppell, two-time champions ATK - previously known as Atletico de Kolkata - have reappointed Spanish coach Antonio Lopez Habas who led the team to title win in the inaugural season in 2014.
Jamshedpur FC’s new gaffer is former Rayo Vallecano manager Antonio Iriondo, who replaces fellow Spaniard Cesar Ferrando while NorthEast United have appointed former Croatia, Real Madrid and Juventus star Robert Jarni as their new head coach.
As the league is committed towards ensuring the growth of domestic players, only seven international players were eligible for registration from each club. This is down from 11 who could be registered in the very first edition back in 2014. In a squad of 25 players, each team can only play five foreigners in their starting XI.
Though the number of international players has come down, there will be no dearth of quality, and definitely, the fans will not be bereft of high-profile action.
The past few months saw the teams busy at work, fortifying their squads with the best talents from across India and around the globe. Most of the foreign recruits by the 10 franchises are already proven stars on the global stage.
While teams like Kerala Blasters have concentrated heavily on recruiting top performers from last season such as Bartholomew Ogbeche, there are franchises like NorthEast United who decided to bank on star power by bringing in world-class talents such as Ghanian great Asamoah Gyan.