At last the wait is over. The 2010/11 I-League season is just around the corner and with India under-21 team being a part of the league for the first time in I-League history, it promises to be another enthralling campaign. The battle for the pole position will primarily be fought between the defending Champions Dempo, their Goan rival Churchill Brothers and eternal Kolkata favorites East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. Pune FC, Chirag United and Salgaocar SC – all possess the ability to spill surprises at the top half of the table and provide the much needed drama and excitement in the marathon campaign. At the other end of the table, there will be another fierce battle – the battle for survival. The newly promoted institutional clubs – HAL and ONGC are expected to be fighting out the relegation battle with Viva Kerala and Air India – to some extent we can count Mumbai FC as well in the relegation mix.
There will surely be thrills and spills during the marathon campaign. To shed more lights on each of the participating teams and their anticipated finishing positions at the end of the campaign, TheHardTackle brings you a special coverage on I-League 2010/11 Season Preview, team-by-team analysis and forecasts.
The one and only team in the league which can boost of only home grown talents. AIFF has strictly laid out the rules not to encourage foreign players in this squad. AIFF XI is a team owned and managed by Indian Football Federation and they were given direct entry to the I-League when Mahindra Group decided to disband their famous Mahindra United club team. The prime motive behind initiating a team like AIFF XI is Bob Houghton’s “Vision and Mission 2018” – to provide top tier exposure to young talented Indian players and groom them together for FIFA World Cup 2010.
The team is managed by English coach Desmond Bulpin. Bulpin has previous experience of coaching in English football clubs like Queens Park Rangers, Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur. He also had a successful stint with Uzbekistan national under-17 team. The team contains quite a few promising talents, like Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Jibon Singh, Raju Gaikwad, Jewel Raja Shaikh, Jagtar Singh, who have represented the country in various age group tournaments including the 2010 Asian Games. They can be expected to have a decent run in the I-League. They are capable of causing a few upsets and they will finish in the mid-table region at the end of their debut campaign.
Coach : Desmond Bulpin
Key Players : Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Jewel Raja Shaikh, Malswamfela, Jeje Lalpekhlua
Best I-League Performance : Debut season
Last I-League Performance : Debut Season
Team’s Ambition : Finish in Top-5
TheHardTackle’s Predicted Finishing Standing : 8th
The Pilots, as the team from Mumbai is known as, managed to survive the relegation scare and finished last I-League at 12th position. The team is managed by former Indian player Mohammed Yusif Ansari. Air India is a small budget team and they never challenge for the title. Their best result till date is finishing 5th in the year 1997. They have lost quite a few key players in the transfer window. Ravinder Singh has been signed by East Bengal Club, while Salgaocar roped in three prominent players including number one goalkeeper Amit Das Sharma and centre back Khelemba Singh. Striker James Singh sought a new home in the newly promoted HAL side.
They tried to control the damage by signing few promising players. East Bengal’s reserve goalkeeper Arup Debnath will don the All Red jersey this season. They have also signed Churchill defender Dhanachandra Singh and former India striker Manjit Singh from Salgaocar SC. Brazilian defender Eduardo and Nigerian striker duo of Yousuf Ibrahim and Okorogor Praise are the three foreigners for Air India.
While they have managed to form a decent first XI, the reserve bench looks pretty weak. They will be extremely happy to come out unscathed from the relegation battle this time around.
Coach : Mohammed Yusuf Ansari
Key Players : Tapan Maity, Dada Nabeel, Eduardo, Yusuf Ibrahim
Best I-League Performance : 5th 
Team’s Ambition : Finish above relegation zone
TheHardTackle’s Predicted Finishing Standing : 13th
Under the able guidance of Subrata Bhattacharya, Chirag United have established themselves as a force to reckon with in Indian football arena. Their recent glory in Durand Cup enhanced their reputation further. In a bid to better their last year’s performance, which was a respectable 8th position finish, Chirag made some shrewd business in the transfer market. Former youth India team’s coach Sanjay Sen, who possesses an AFC ‘A’ license, has also been included as a coach, to comply with AFC criteria, while Subrata Bhattacharya will serve as the Technical Director of the team.
One of their major signing of the season is Nigerian defender Chica Wali from Pune FC. In the attempt to fill the void left by Sandip Nandy when he switched to East Bengal, Subrata Bhattacharya managed to lure four times I-League winner Abhijit Mondal from Dempo. They have also signed proven goal scorer Junior Obagbemiro from the relegated Sporting Club, Goa. Junior and Joshimar Martins forms an amazing strike partnership, while Chica Wali will have enough support in the defense in the form of club captain Arnab Mondal and another new signing, Uzbek Sergey Tukov. Denson Devadas, Malswam Tulunga, Lalkamal Bhowmick, and Gauranga Biswas forms a very good midfield as well.
They will be a tough nut to crack, especially at their home turf – Yuvabharati Krirangan, Salt Lake. On their day, this team coupled with Subrata’s vision can win over any club, including the big four. Expect them to snatch points off the top of the table teams and thus making the title battle ever more interesting.
TD / Coach : Subrata Bhattacharya / Sanjay Sen
Key Players : Joshimar, Junior, Md. Rafiq, Densan Devadas, Abhijit Mondal
Best I-League Performance : 8th [2008/09, 2009/10]
Team’s Ambition : Top-3 Finish
TheHardTackle’s Predicted Finishing Standing : 5th