Deep into stoppage time, when super-sub Mohammed Rafique headed the ball into the back of the net in December 2014, his team Atletico de Kolkata – which had started the season as strong favorites and two wins but eventually scraped through to the semis – became the champions of the inaugural Hero Indian Super League. They had defeated Kerala Blasters 1-0 in a pulsating final at the DY Patil Stadium in Mumbai, after the Blasters had defeated favorites and league-winners Chennaiyin FC 4-3 on aggregate over two legs in the semis.
It was an odd tournament for Kolkata, who began their campaign with two convincing wings, and then only managed two more wins over the whole league phase. They drew 7 games, the maximum out of all teams, and finished 3rd in the league stage, above the Blasters – who had begun their campaign with two losses, but operated in reverse. Both the teams defeated favorites Chennai and Goa in the semis, and went on to play the final in front of a capacity crowd – which reflected the TV ratings and viewership this highly successful first season of the football league had garnered.
One year on, we’re ready for two more months of football action – with the same eight teams competing for the trophy.
There have been personnel changes in most of the teams in pre-season:
Blasters coach/player David James has been replaced by Englishman and veteran coach Peter Taylor, who has also coached the Bahrain football team, and several English clubs including Hull City and Crystal Palace.
Pune City coach Franco Columba has been replaced by English ex-midfielder and ex-Manchester City coach David Platt.
Last-place finishers NorthEast United’s coach Ricki Herbert has been replaced by ex-Venezuelan football coach Cesar Farias, who has promptly signed ex-Portuguese winger Simao Sabrosa.
Mumbai’s famed Peter Reid will make way for their own player and ex-French international Nicolas Anelka.
Most notably, Delhi Dynamos coach Harm van Veldhoven will be replaced by Brazilian and Real Madrid legend Roberto Carlos – the best set piece taker of a generation – who will also serve as the marquee player for the side
Ex-Chelsea and Florentina winger Adrian Mutu will finally take the field for Pune City FC, who failed to secure his transfer last year, as marquee player, replacing outgoing David Trezeguet.
Sunil Chhetri, India’s football captain, who didn’t play last year because his I-League club Bangalore refused to release him, has signed on for FC Mumbai City, and will partner Anelka in front of goal.
Ex-Spanish World Cup winner and central defender Carlos Marchena will look to make up for the exit of David James from the Kerala Blasters.
FC Goa coach Zico has brought in 2002 World Cup Brazilian winner Lucio.
Ex-Liverpool star John Arne Riise and former Chelsea and French winger Florent Malouda will play under Roberto Carlos for the Delhi Dynamos.
The first match will be played between champions Atletico de Kolkata and league toppers Chennaiyin FC at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Chennai on October 3rd. Elano, last year’s top scorer, will probably take the field for Chennaiyin FC as a central midfielder. Helder Postiga, another Portugal legend, will be Kolkata’s marquee player and main striker.