The Indian Super League (ISL) reached new heights during the 2019-20 season, with many players performing beyond expectations for their respective sides, while others not quite reaching the same heights as expected of them.
The season saw a staggering 294 goals being scored at an average of 3.09 per match – more than any of the past five seasons. With ATK FC coming back on top after a few seasons of declined performances, a lot of their improvements can be attributed to the addition of foreign imports under returning head coach Antonio Lopez Habas.
While many foreign players like Sergio Castel, Agustin Garcia Iniguez and Michael Onwu starred for their respective clubs, none were able to achieve the same kind of success as the five new imports mentioned below.
One of the marquee signings of the recently concluded ISL season was the addition of Fijian striker Roy Krishna, from Wellington Phoenix, in the A-League in Australia. He scored more than 50 goals for the New Zealand based side, winning the Golden Boot and the prestigious Johnny Warren medal after a stellar 2018-19 season.
Krishna scored some very important goals for the Kolkata-based club, including a brace against Odisha to draw the game and an equaliser in the second leg of the semi-finals against Bengaluru FC. He was the joint top-scorer in the league alongside Bartholomew Ogbeche and Nerijus Valskis with 15 goals but narrowly missed out on the Golden Boot award, having played more minutes than the Chennaiyin hitman.
His pace and dribbling and ability made him the perfect poacher, complementing Habas and his counter-attacking style this season. Krishna was also a natural leader on the field for the champions, often turning the tide in games with his precise passing and perfect finishing.
David Williams fights off competition from Manuel Onwu, Raphael Messi Bouli and Sergio Castel to make it to this list, courtesy of his brilliant performance for ATK in the playoff stages of the tournament. Joining the club along with Roy Krishna, Williams was another star performer for Wellington Phoenix in the A-League.
Having garnered experience across Europe and in his home country, the Aussie forward was prolific for ATK as well. Much like his striker partner Roy Krishna, Williams played an important part in ATK’s run to the finals, like the solitary goal he scored in a win over Chennaiyin (which was also the 1000th goal of the league).
His biggest contribution, however, was undoubtedly the two goals he scored in the second leg of the semifinals, including a thumping header to give his side the lead. His presence behind Krishna was the main reason the striker could make any forward runs and he finished the season with seven goals and five assists in 18 matches.
Spanish strikers have been hugely successful in the ISL, with the likes of Manuel Lanzarote and Ferran Corominas finding the back of the net on many occasions. This season was no different, with the addition of Aridane Santana for newcomers Odisha FC proving beneficial to their fight for a playoff spot.
Santana scored nine goals and assisted two others in the fourteen matches he played and led a young Odisha side from upfront. Initially taking time to settle at the club, he soon flourished under Josep Gombau and used his physical prowess to good effect. The 32-year-old striker would also play deep into his team’s territory to defend for Odisha, keeping them in the race for the top four till late.
Just when the Bhubaneshwar-based club was gathering up momentum for the top four, Santana’s season was cut short due to an injury. They ended the season sixth in the league table, but the outcome could’ve been quite different had the Spaniard managed to stay fit.
Chennaiyin FC’s story in the ISL was a fairytale, having scripted a great comeback to reach the finals with Owen Coyle at the helm. Many players such as Lallianzuala Chhangte, Andre Schembri and Edwin Vanspaul were key members of the team, but the pick of the bunch was definitely Nerijus Valskis.
After quite the slow start to his time in the ISL, The Lithuanian striker was the driving attacking force in the Chennaiyin team. He was the joint-top scorer this season but beat both his other contenders to the Golden Boot by virtue of lesser playing time.
Apart from his direct goal contributions, Valskis’ hold-up play was also a key part of Chennaiyin’s game this season. His instinctive runs helped create opportunities for forward forays for Chennaiyin’s pacy wingers, helping them assist as well as score some great goals.
Another member of Chennaiyin’s dream team was Rafael Crivellaro. While Valskis was their goal threat, it was Crivellaro who was in charge of creating the opportunities for Chennaiyin FC throughout the season. The Brazil-born footballer came into the two-time ISL champion team after playing in Italy, UAE, Poland and Portugal.
Crivellaro headed the onslaught of the Chennaiyin attackers after the arrival of Irish head coach Owen Coyle. His free-flowing football was key for Chennaiyin and helped the team build counterattacks towards the tail end of the campaign, as Chennaiyin scored a whopping 34 times in 14 games. Crivellaro scored seven of these goals while assisting another eight. Averaging 51 passes per game, Crivellaro also commanded a decent passing accuracy of 58.62.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Punit Paranjpe