ISL has given new hope to Indian football (News Analysis)

Kolkata, Dec 27 (IANS) The inaugural Indian Super League (ISL) has thrown up interesting statistics to give a clear indication that India has come to be recognised as an emerging footballing nation.

Fans take the names of some Indian footballers in the same breath as those of their high-profile European counterparts.
There are questions that beg answers such as whether the ISL has come to stay and become India’s major league, or how well have the home-grown players performed for the overseas scouts to take note of them.
The first spark was seen when the reigning La Liga champions Atletico Madrid wanted to have a closer look at Arnab Mondal, the meticulous defender of ISL champions Atletico de Kolkata.
Still, the most abiding picture of the ISL will be home-bred Mohammed Rafique heading home the title-clincher for Kolkata in injury time, though none of the Indian players figured among the top eight scorers with overseas players leading in the goal count.
A closer look at the stats show the Indians getting into the frame for the assists, tackles and crosses, underscoring their worth in the overall scheme of things.
Former India international Sishir Ghosh said the Indians, especially the defenders, did well.
“All the Indian players have been brilliant. Narayan Das and (Harmanjot) Khabra, and especially the defenders like Arnab Mandal and Kingshuk (Debnath), have played to their full potential doing justice to their talent. Also, playing alongside legends has given them the opportunity to play well,” Ghosh told IANS.
Footballers from Brazil and India shared the spotlight for scoring the most number of aggregate goals – 26 each, with Brazilian star Elano Blumer bagging the golden boot by scoring the most number of goals – eight.
The first eight spots in the scorers’ list have all been occupied by overseas recruits. Ninth on the list is a certain Jeje Lalpekhlua, who has netted four goals for Chennaiyin FC from 13 appearances.
He is followed by another Indian, Romeo Fernandez of FC Goa, with three strikes from 11 outings.
Atletico’s utility player Baljit Sahni, who featured in all but one match for his side, also scored two goals, the same as his teammate Cavin Lobo, who scored a brace in the first leg of the round robin encounter against Goa.
The Indians have left a strong imprint in terms of assists. Third on the list is Francis Fernandez of the Delhi Dynamos with three from 11 games, followed by Balwant Singh at five and Harmanjot Khabra at six for Chennaiyin with three assists each in 14 and 15 games respectively.
If Rafique scored the last goal of the league, Balwant Singh was the first Indian to score.
Tackles too had been flying-in throughout the tournament, with Indians having their share of sweeping their opponents off their feet.
After the Spaniard Borja Fernandez for Atletico with 63 tackles, Indian Denson Devdas for Chennaiyin took the second spot with 53 tackles followed by Debabrata Roy of FC Goa with 48.
Adoringly called Indian David Beckham, Steven Dias made his mark in sending down crosses.
He essayed 33 for the Dynamos, while Airborlang Khonjee of NorthEast United F.C featured fourth with 43. Heading the list, however, is Kerala Blasters’ Scottish midfielder Stephen Paul Pearson, who distributed 57 crosses.
On the flip side, the ineptitude of the Indians in shooting at the target was also exposed.
Sahni of Atletico heads the list of Indians with 16, compared to the topper Elano’s 25.
The tournament also saw terrific performances by several youngsters. Heading the list would be Dynamo’s 20-year-old Brazilian recruit Gustavo dos Santos who scored five goals besides providing two assists in 13 appearances.
Among the Indians, 18-year-old Alen Deory of NorthEast United was a live wire on the field. He made up for his lack of experience with constant sprints into the box and shots on target.
Shandesh Jhingan, the 21-year-old Indian who turned up for the Blasters, pocketed the Best Emerging Player award not only for standing like a rock in the heart of the defence but also for his ability to create chances, grabbing two assists on the way.
Quizzed about the performance of the domestic players, former India and East Bengal forward Biswajit Bhattacharya said it was a message from the Indians to the rest of the world: “We showed we too play football”.
“The Indian players have sent a strong message to the football world. We had previously been neglected, but now the platform provided by the ISL has been fully utilised by the Indian players,” Bhattacharya told IANS over the phone.
“All the Indian players have played well. The only difference between them and the overseas recruits is technique. The overseas players are sounder as many of them were part of the biggest clubs and teams in Europe,” he added.
(Debdoot Das can be contacted at [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>)