THE BUILD-UP TO THE second edition of the Indian Super League has taken full swing, and it's set to be another star-studded affair as the franchises have begun, one by one, securing the services of players of international reputation to feature in the gala event come October.
Mumbai City, after their disappointing first season, are keen to make good this time around. Looking to strengthen their side they are expected to be one of the leading players in the upcoming domestic draft. But when it comes to their marquee signing, they have opted to retain their experienced and fan-fabvourite superstar Nicolas Anelka. The French striker, who has in the past played in clubs like Arsenal, PSG, Real Madrid, Manchester City and Chelsea, made 7 appearances for Mumbai City in the inaugural ISL, scoring twice. After the ISL he had agreed to a 18 month contract with Algerian club NA Hussein Dey but the move was blocked by Algerian Football Federation citing their strict criteria of signing foreign players: they must be under 27 and playing for their national teams. Mumbai City coach will have a job in his hand, considering Anelka has not played a professional game since last ISL.
Kerala Blasters are taking no chances this season after they lost the first ever ISL final by a last minute goal to Atletico de Kolkata. Their aim is to use the quality in last year's team as a benchmark to build a team much stronger. They are well on their way, as talks with their potential new marquee player have progressed a lot. Norwegian left back John Arne Riise, who won the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool in 2004-05 with an assist in the final, looks set to don the yellow shirt of the Kerala franchise come October. The team's manager Peter Taylor sounded hopeful when he told Sky Sports, “We would love him to come and join us. I don’t think it’s sorted out yet but he’s a player that we like and I think he would be great for the league without a doubt.”
Even if Riise is not a certainty yet, the Blasters have taken positive steps by roping in English striker Christopher Dagnall, who has prominently featured in the Championship for clubs like Barnsley and Scunthorpe United. The Liverpool-born 29 year old was playing for Leyton Orient in the League One last season, and his role in the Blasters is to replace Iain Hume, who made a move to Atletico de Kolkata earlier.
Another English striker who has been linked with a move to the ISL is Bobby Zamora. The London-born 34 year old has featured in the Premier League and UEFA Europa League for West Ham, Tottenham Hotspur and Queens Park Ranger in the past. Although the ISL authorities declared earlier this month that he cannot be a marquee footballer, he is still sought after by the franchises. The latest rumours suggest that FC Pune City have approached him with an offer. He made 21 appearances for Queens Park Ranger in the 2014-15 Premier League season and scored twice. His presence in the Pune side is set to boost their attacking prowess considerably.
Meanwhile defending champions, having secured a new marquee footballer in Iain Hume, are now looking for stability. They have decided to retain Spanish defender Jose Miguel Gonzalez Rey, popularly known as Josemi, as well as Botswana defensive medio Ofentse Nato. Josemi has played for Liverpool in the Premier League and played in all 17 matches for the Kolkata franchise last season, making valuable contribution to their ISL-winning campaign. Nato, whose parent club is South African Premier Soccer League side Bidvest Wits, was loaned out to Atletico de Kolkata last season for whom he made 15 appearances. At present he is playing in Bostwana club Gaborone United FC on a 6 month loan deal but come October he will return to take part in the Kolkata side's title defense.
Of all the ISL franchises, Chennai probably receives most credit for creating a fanbase in a city where there was no pre-existing fan culture surrounding any local football team. Their on-field performance, too, spoke volumes about the team's quality. In the league stage they finished on top. And the epic double-leg battle between Chennaiyin and Kerala Blasters in the semifinals was the stuff legends are made of. Having been conceived later than other franchises, they have achieved a lot in a very short time. While forming a team for the next season they are going towards maintaining stability. To that end, they have managed to retain attacking midfielder Elano Blumer, who scored 8 goals in 9 appearances for them last season, as their marquee player. Elano is a veteran of the Brazil national team as well as renowned clubs like Manchester City, Galatasaray and Santos. In fact, he returned to Santos after playing in the ISL, making one appearance for them in February. His return was hugely anticipated by fans in Chennai and the franchise, under the guidance of Marco Materazzi, can now dream of bigger things.
All eight franchises are aiming for something higher this season, and their team-building efforts will take on full swing when the domestic players' draft as well as auction goes underway in July. The ISL may still be months away but the run up to the showpiece event has already begun, and if the early signs are anything to go by, it will outshine its memorable first season.