THE INFLUX OF FOREIGNERS to the Indian Super League continues and the profile of the typical ISL import seems to be changing. There is less emphasis on big names who played on the big leagues years ago and instead, franchises are getting more and more interested in players who are younger and have been playing regularly.
The driving factors behind this change are the franchise managements' awareness of the demands of a time-intensive tournament like ISL, as well as the Rs 20 crore spending restriction set on every franchise. NorthEast United lead the charge with signings like Nicolás Vélez and Francis Dadzie, and others are also stocking up on young, pacy players who can withstand the hassle of the ISL fixtures. These players, not what one would usually call "star material", are more than capable of carrying out specific, limited roles for the team.
Chennaiyin FC's latest two signings, Brazilian duo Mailson Alves and Raphael Augusto, fall along similar lines. Both are relatively young, have modest resumes compared to the previous signings made by the franchises those positions, and are known for their durability, sound technique and pace.
27 year old Mailson Alves has never played top division football in his life. After starting out at the Spanish Segunda Division with Portimonense, he returned to his country of birth and played in the state leagues of Mineiro and Gaucho, occasionally going as far up as Serie C. He has played for clubs like Porto Alegre and Tombense, and won the Serie D with Villa Nova. He was at Campeonato Mineiro side Tupi before he moved to Chennaiyin, where he scored the first ever goal of his senior career. That's not a career that stands out in any way. But he comes from that Brazilian gharana and fits in well with other Brazilian plahyers like Éder, Elano and Bruno Pelissari. Good understanding between defenders and defensive midfielders forms the backbone of Chennayin FC's battle plan this season.
And their other signing announced today, Raphael Augusto, also falls into the same plan. A medio brought up at Brazilian Serie A side Fluminese, he spent most of his first two years at their senior team on the bench, spending a total of 50 minutes on the pitch. Still a Fluminese development project at 24, he has been on loan since 2011, playing at the Carioca state league and Serie B. In 2012 he was signed by MLS club DC United, and spent two seasons there, making a total of 9 appearances. He was then recruited by Polish top division Ekstraklasa side Legia Warszawa. He came out to play 9 times during their league winning campaign on 2013/14. Before joining Chennaiyin he was playing at Serie C club Madureira. As a player he isn't exactly world class but he is young and striving to make a name for himself. And Elano, whose last regular, rigorous participation in a long league campaign was way back in 2013, will have to be rested at some point. It's good to have back ups.
Hopefully in the coming years this trend will grow and India will gain a repuation as a good testing ground to give promising young players a run out. In terms of raising the quality and competitiveness of Indian football, such a development will prove to be far more effective than bringing in big names who played in the past but can't play three matches on the trot without facing a significant decrease in his fitness and energy levels.