You wouldn’t feel it, but the Hero Indian Super League – the ISL – is in its sixth season after kicking off in 2014. IPL aside, the domestic football franchise tournament has arguably been the most evolved and popular sporting tournament in the country. The ISL has captured the imagination of a nation otherwise obsessed with cricket, proving that there is space for all kinds of fans and games. Having said that, it’s safe to say that most of this decade has been dominated by this football tournament – enough to know household names, local favorites, foreign stars, and promising newcomers. Here, in no particular order, are the 5 most influential and best ISL players of the decade:
No list of best ISL players can be complete without the Indian national captain and the most successful striker the country has ever produced. We aren’t merely paying lip service to his legacy though. Chhetri, who started his domestic career way back in 2002 with Mohun Bagan as a teenager in the I-League, has been the captain of FC Bengaluru – currently one of the newest and most successful teams of the ISL. He has led them to two consecutive finals and 1 ISL title – this, after having a successful stint in the I-League before graduating to the ISL. Chhetri is also the second-highest goal-scorer of the ISL right now, with 34 goals in his 65 games so far. He is easily India’s most influential football player and has played a big role in keeping the ISL so popular and relevant today.
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Let's keep the height or the lack of it aside for a minute. A few years ago, I saw you walk into the national team as a kid. And today to see 'Arjuna Awardee' go beside your name, gives me immense pride. I am so happy for you @gkgurpreet and I want you to keep aspiring to be a better player and human being every single day. You deserve this.
The 35-year-old striker from Spain has set the ISL alight ever since he joined FC Goa in 2017. He is yet to win the electric team an ISL title, but there is nobody more lethal on the pitch than Coro – who holds the ISL goal-scoring record already with 38 goals in 45 matches. And he is far from done. He made a great partnership with Lanzarote (who is now with ATK) for a season, contributing largely to Goa being the most attacking and exciting team to watch in the ISL.
The Jamshedpur goalie has been a prime reason behind the relatively new team having one of the best defensive records in the ISL. Jamshedpur has been famously stingy for two seasons now, and Paul has reflected their wall mentality in the way he has gone about his job and marshaled the defenders in front of him. He has realized that the team isn’t filled with attacking flair, and it’s his game sense that has kept the team consistently in the top 4 despite a lack of resources.
The Brazilian midfielder had been an unsung hero for two-time champs Chennaiyin in his 4 seasons with the team. They crashed and burned in the last season, after which Augusto was immediately snapped up by Bengaluru so that he can lend the same control in the field to the team and spray balls both sides of the pitch. Augusto holds the record (ongoing) for the most touches in his 70 games, as well as the most passes around the field. If that isn’t a sign of a solid midfielder, what else is?
The Venezuelan striker played for defending champions Bengaluru for only two seasons – its first two ISL seasons – but his “cameo” is a huge reason behind their sustained success. He has left the ISL this season, and Bengaluru’s lack of striking ability is there for all to see. Miku scored 20 goals in his 32 games across the 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns, catapulting Bengaluru into the final on both occasions and scoring hat-tricks for fun. Miku made a great partner to Chhetri, and his departure has left a huge gap to fill.
Special Mentions: Jeje Lalpekhlua, Iain Hume, Marcelo Perreira, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
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