ISL teams: All the clubs who have played the league
Since the inception of the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014 as an eight-team competition, India’s premier football tournament has seen as many as 14 ISL teams featuring in it.
While some are defunct today, others are still struggling to climb the table, and then there are a few who have won the championship multiple times.
The latest ISL features 11 teams, but that will soon change with I-League winners allowed to gain promotion to the top-tier league in 2022 and 2023. Furthermore, ISL will also include a relegation system from the 2024-25 season.
Before the next few seasons see more changes, here are all the ISL clubs that have featured in the premier Indian football league in the seven seasons so far.
ATK FC (formerly Atletico de Kolkata)
Formerly known as Atletico de Kolkata, ATK FC was the first ISL team to be announced as a participant in the Indian Super League. With current BCCI president Sourav Ganguly as co-owner, the Kolkata-based club is the most successful ISL team with three titles to their name in just six seasons.
ATK had reached the ISL playoffs stage in all but two editions (2017 and 2018) and their biggest success have come under the tutelage of two-time winning coach Antonio López Habas, across two separate stints.
After a successful stint with ATK from 2014 to 2016, Habas returned in the 2019-20 season to bring back the offensive style of play that the club was known for and the Kolkata side went on to have their best campaign.
Winning 10 of their 18 league games, ATK FC tallied 34 points to finish second in the league stages before winning the title for the third time and becoming the most successful ISL club ever.
Following the 2019-20 season, ATK FC merged with I-League side Mohun Bagan to be rechristened as ATK Mohun Bagan.
Two-time ISL champions Chennaiyin FC’s journey has been a rollercoaster ride so far.
The Marina Machans, who have had four managers oversee their progress in the Indian Super League so far, became the first ISL team to reach the group stages of the AFC Cup in 2019.
Chennaiyin’s greatest campaign was the 2019-20 season, where they turned around their horrible start (one win from the first six games), to finishing fourth in the league stages (seven wins in the next 12 games). Bringing in manager Owen Coyle mid-season did the trick, as his counter-attacking philosophy saw Chennaiyin FC win seven of their next 12 games to reach the ISL 2019-20 final to face ATK.
Chennaiyin FC (CFC) are one of the few ISL teams who boast of a huge fan following today.
After the Indian Super League received a nod from the Asian Football Confederation to expand its eight-team participation in 2017, Bengaluru FC made the transition from I-League to the ISL.
With former FC Barcelona assistant coach Albert Roca overseeing the maiden campaign, Bengaluru FC won 14 of their 21 league matches to finish as runners-up to Chennaiyin in the 2017-18 season.
However, their promising debut ISL season saw a heart-breaking end as Chennaiyin defeated Bengaluru FC in their backyard to lift the 2017-18 ISL title.
Their impressive start was followed by a change in personnel as a new perspective was brought in by Carles Cuadrat, who orchestrated a record-breaking 2018-19 campaign.
Sunil Chhetri and Co. went on a league-record 11-match unbeaten run while winning six matches in a row. They also became the first team to win the ISL title after finishing top in the league phase.
Though a large exodus of players saw BFC’s run end in the playoff stages in the 2019-20 season, they kept a record 11 clean sheets.
FC Goa have arguably been the most prolific scorers in the Indian Super League and their style of play, first brought about during Brazilian legend Zico’s two-year stint as the club’s head coach, continues to be a delightful sight for the fans even today.
FC Goa’s ISL journey began on a monotonous note though, as they could score only 12 goals in their maiden season despite finishing second in the points table. They improved massively in the following campaign, by registering the most goals (29) in the league stages.
The 2015 ISL season also saw FC Goa recording the highest number of goals scored in a single ISL fixture as they beat Mumbai City FC 7–0 at home. However, their impressive season was marred by a 2-3 loss in the final to Chennaiyin FC.
Though FC Goa (FCG) are yet to win an ISL title, they have featured in two semi-finals and one final match since their remarkable 2015 season.
With Sergio Lobera starting a new era at the Fatorda Stadium in 2017, the Gaurs have gone from strength to strength. It was most evident in the 2019-20 campaign, where they scored a whopping 51 goals, which stands as a record.
Mumbai City FC
Before their high-profile partnership with the City Football Group (CFG), Mumbai City FC had created headlines with the marquee signings of Nicholas Anelka and Freddie Ljungberg. But even the presence of such stalwarts couldn’t prevent the Islanders from finishing second from bottom in the inaugural campaign.
Mumbai City FC (MCFC) endured a fair share of highs and lows between 2016 to 2018, from reaching their first-ever playoffs to scripting a seventh-place finish once again. The 2018 season saw Mumbai City FC reach their second ISL playoff at the back of striker Modou Sougou’s impressive performances - 12 goals which included a four-goal exhibition in a fixture against Kerala Blasters.
After a promising 2018-19 campaign, last season saw Mumbai City miss out on a playoffs berth owing to frequent injuries and their inability to stitch up a formidable defence setup. While they became the first team to beat Bengaluru FC, Jorge Costa’s men conceded 29 goals in the league stage to finish fifth.
Kerala Blasters FC
Kerala Blasters FC, like their archrivals Chennaiyin FC and Bengaluru FC, are one of the most supported ISL teams in Asia. However, the Tuskers have also been one of the most fragile ISL teams over the years, with respect to their performances in the league stages.
Kerala Blasters also boast an infamous record of having brought in the most number of managers - with current boss Kibu Vicuna the 10th different coach - since the team’s debut in 2014.
The Sachin Tendulkar-owned side has failed to qualify for the playoffs in four ISL editions, with their best-ever campaign being in 2016, where Kerala Blasters won six of their 14 games before losing in the final to ATK FC.
Delhi Dynamos FC
Delhi Dynamos FC’s five-year presence in the Indian Super League was a lukewarm success, with the capital team finishing within the top four only in their second and third seasons.
The signatures of Juventus hero Alessandro del Piero as a marquee player in 2014 and legendary Brazil defender Roberto Carlos as head coach for the 2015 -16 season was supposed to be a catalyst in Delhi Dynamos’ rise as a powerhouse in the ISL.
However, it attracted very little footfall and inconsistent performances in DDFC’s final years of existence led to the eventual collapse of the ISL team.
FC Pune City
FC Pune City were plagued with controversies over the course of their stay in the Indian Super League, from endorsements to struggling with salary payments and an illegal transfer move.
The Stallions had brought in Juventus legend David Trezeguet on board as their marquee player for the inaugural season, but the move didn’t pay off well, as the former France striker could score just twice in nine games.
In the next four years, FC Pune City managed to secure a playoff-qualification place just once. The 2017-18 edition, where the ISL team lost out to Bengaluru in the semi-final, saw Serbian coach Ranko Popović inspire the club to nine wins and score 30 goals in the group stage.
NorthEast United FC
NorthEast United FC are the last of the original eight ISL teams that started in 2014 and are still running. The Highlanders have struggled with their ability to score and also lacked the experience of homegrown players in abundance over on their roster.
Like Kerala, NEUFC have had a string of managers sit on the hot seat with Spaniard Gerard Gus being the current gaffer to oversee operations. As far as their performances are concerned, NorthEast United have finished in the bottom two in three out of the six seasons, ending with the wooden spoon twice.
Primarily a mid-table team, NEUFC have finished fifth two times, which was the closest they could come to making it the playoffs until Eelco Schattorie upped their game in the 2018-19 season.
The Dutch tactician provided NorthEast United with their best ISL season ever as the club made the semi-finals for the first and only time in their six seasons in ISL. However, their run was ended by the eventual 2018-19 ISL champions Bengaluru FC.
In 2017, Jamshedpur FC became the second ISL team to feature as a new entry in the competition, besides Bengaluru FC.
The Men of Steel or Red Miners, since their debut, have showcased a balance of Indian and overseas players, and have registered successive fifth-place finishes in their first two campaigns. The 2019-20 season, however, saw the ISL team drop a few levels and finish eighth.
Regardless of their lack of success in the tournament so far, JFC have provided the perfect platform for young Indian players to step up. Over the past three seasons, talents like Michael Soosairaj, Aniket Jadhav, Farukh Choudhary and others have come up from the Jamshedpur FC academy.
Odisha FC, rebranded from the now-defunct Delhi Dynamos, were one of the two new ISL teams to make their foray into the showpiece league in the 2018-19 season.
Under Josep Gombau, the Juggernauts finished their maiden Indian Super League campaign in sixth place. Interestingly, Odisha FC’s first victory in the competition, a 4-2 away win over Mumbai City FC, is their biggest win in terms of margin.
Former striker Aridane Santana is the club’s leading scorer with nine goals while his Spanish compatriot Manuel Onwu has hit the only hat-trick for Odisha FC in the Indian Super League. OFC are currently managed by British coach Stuart Baxter
The Nizams came into being after FC Pune City were disbanded and Hyderabad FC signed almost every player from the former ISL team ahead of their maiden campaign in the 2019-20 season.
Hyderabad FC’s debut season, however, began on a disastrous note as they slumped to a 5-0 defeat to ATK FC. HFC’s first victory had come against Kerala Blasters, whom they beat 2-1 at home with Marko Stankovic and Marcelinho getting their names on the scorecard. However, that didn’t stop HFC from finishing in the rock-bottom in the season with two wins and 12 losses.
ATK Mohun Bagan FC
After 13 seasons in the I-League, Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan decided to merge its operations with three-time ISL champions ATK to form a new ISL team called ATK Mohun Bagan.
The new franchise, who kept hold of Antonio López Habas as their head coach and star forwards Roy Krishna and David Williams among many players from the now-dissolved ATK, has made an ambitious start to the 2020-21 season.
SC East Bengal
Like Mohun Bagan, their archrivals East Bengal opted for a fresh scenery as well and climbed up to the Indian Super League for the 2020-21 edition.
One of the most decorated clubs in Indian football, the Red and Gold Brigade appointed Premier League’s Liverpool icon Robbie Fowler as their first-ever head coach but have since scripted a sorry start to the ISL 2020-21 season.
As seasons pass in the Indian Super League, the Kolkata Derby between ATK Mohun Bagan and SC East Bengal is expected to take up a major status in the competition.
Feature image courtesy: PUNIT PARANJPE / AFP