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Remembering the Marquee Players From the Early Days of the Indian Super League

The early days of the Indian Super League were a crazy time, to say the least. The league was formed back in October 2013 and would eventually kick off the following year. It would operate without a license from the AFC – football’s governing body in Asia – and follow a similar three-month calendar to that of the Indian Premier League, with matches played every day.

The continent’s governing body would continue to recognise the I-League as India’s premier football competition, but it was hard to take that decision seriously courtesy of the plethora of global superstars that came to ply their trade in the country. What’s more, with online bookmakers such as Ladbrokes increasingly providing free offers on Indian football, interest and speculation around the new season coming in October has never been so great. But before the Kerala Blasters and East Bengal Club raise the curtain next month, let’s take a walk down memory lane.

2014 & 2015

The first ISL campaign began on 12th October 2014, and with the calibre of players that were attracted to the new competition, excitement couldn’t have been higher. Luis Garcia – a winner of the Champions League some nine years prior – was given the honour of becoming the league’s first marquee player, signing with Atlético de Kolkata. Former Manchester City and Brazil star Elano was the next to follow when he joined Chennaiyin on a two-year deal.

2006 World Cup winner and Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero was the chosen marquee star for Delhi Dynamos. Three French icons also joined the league, with former Arsenal stars Robert Pires and Nicolas Anelka signing with Goa and Mumbai City respectively, while David Trezeguet – scorer of the goal that won Euro 2000 for Les Bleus – joined Pune City. Speaking of Pune City, they didn’t do too bad in 2015 either. Following the massive coup of Trezeguet the year prior, they managed to add former Chelsea teammates Adrian Mutu and Eiður Guðjohnsen the following year.

Another former Arsenal legend, Freddie Ljungberg joined Mumbai City. Members of Spain’s tournament-winning Euro 2008 squad, Joan Capdevilla and Carlos Marchena, signed for NorthEast United and Kerala Blasters – who also signed English goalkeeper David James as player/manager the year before. NorthEast pulled out all the stops in 2015 as well, bringing in Portuguese star Simao. The former Sporting Lisbon man had previously won 85 caps for his country, scoring 22 goals in the process, and was seen as a man that could bring success to the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium.

The biggest coup of all however was that of former Brazil and Real Madrid legend Roberto Carlos. The former World Cup and Champions League winner joined Delhi Dynamos in 2015.

2016

The marquee signings didn’t stop in 2014 or 2015. In 2016, it was more of the same. Kolkata replaced the outgoing Luis Garcia with veteran target man Helder Postiga. One of Garcia’s teammates on that famous night in Istanbul, John Arne Riise, would join Chennaiyin, and Florent Malouda – a Champions League winner four years prior with Chelsea – joined Delhi.

NorthEast continued their habit of bringing in quality players by bringing in former Spurs central midfielder Didier Zokora and Pune City also added an African holding midfielder, former Liverpool and Juventus star Mohamed Sissoko.

There were two additions that stood out above the rest though. Firstly Goa brought in Brazilian central defender Lucio. The 2002 World Cup winner had won three Bundesliga crowns with Bayern Munich, as well as being a crucial part of Jose Mourinho’s iconic Inter Milan treble winners – who still remain the only Italian team to complete the impressive feat.

The final marquee addition in 2016 was Diego Forlan. The Uruguay legend joined Mumbai City some six years on from his finest campaign when he led his country to third place at the FIFA World Cup two months after his brace broke Fulham hearts and secured the Europa League for Atletico Madrid.

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