On March 14, curtains came down on the sixth edition of the Hero Indian Super League (ISL). It was a pity that the finale of a fantastic tournament was played in front of empty stands. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Margao, Goa saw the summit clash between ATK and arch-rival Chennaiyin FC being played behind closed doors. Nevertheless, the titanic clash produced electrifying football! Riding on the back of a Javier Hernandez double, ATK pipped Chennaiyin FC for an unprecedented third title. The 3-1 scoreline underscored the brilliant season for ATK. It was a fitting finale to an eventful season, which saw terrific performances.
1. Fabulous youngsters
Sumit Rathi, ATK’s 20-year-old central defender, announced himself on Indian football’s premier stage. He was one of the prime pieces of ATK’s miserly defence, which let in a paltry 18 goals in 20 matches.
Bengaluru FC's midfielder Suresh Wangjam was thrown into the deep end midway through the season. Manager Carles Cuadrat’s gamble paid off as the teenager gave super displays game after game.
Other youngsters also caught people's eye. FC Goa’s striker, Manvir Singh, helmed its dream run, which, ruefully, lasted only till the semis. Jeakson Thounaojam and Mohammad Rakip were outstanding for Kerala Blasters. Redeem Tlang (NorthEast United FC), and Shubham Sarangi (Odisha FC) also emerged as players for the future.
2. Foreign players
The Fiji-Aussie combo of Roy Krishna and David Williams fired on all cylinders for ATK. Rafael Crivellaro and Nerijus Valskis were similarly brilliant for the losing finalists, Chennaiyin FC. FC Goa topped the league stages on the back of an almost-flawless partnership between Hugo Boumous and Ferran ‘Coro’ Telechea. A similar role was played by Bartholomew Ogbeche and Raphael Messi Bouli for Kerala Blasters. Ogbeche ended as the joint top goalscorer with Valskis — scoring 15 goals in the competition. Apart from these on-field partnerships, there were some off-field ones which were significant.
3. A great future
Owners of Manchester City football club in the Premier League, The City Football Group, bought a majority stake in Mumbai City FC. It is a landmark event for ISL and Mumbai City FC, with potentially cascading benefits for Indian football.
ATK announced its decision to merge with legendary Indian football club Mohun Bagan. The two clubs will form a new entity that will take part in the ISL next season.
ISL winners will get an automatic spot in the prestigious AFC Champions League group stages, for the first time. The confirmation has established ISL’s position as India’s premier football league.
ISL 2019-20 season ended with a promise of heralding a transformative phase in Indian football.