The inaugural edition of national league winners are no longer the strong force they once used to be. With the rise of the Goan clubs in early part of this millenium, JCT finds itself as a mid-table team at this moment. After their strong showing in the late 90s, when they used to compete with the Kolkata biggies for national honors, JCT failed to win even a single prominent silverware in this decade. Last season they finished the league campaign in 7th position with 32 points.
During the transfer season, JCT lost few of their key players. Goalkeeper Karanjit Singh, playmaker Penn Orji and midfielder-turned-striker Baljit Singh are the major departures for the Ludhiana based club. They tried to restrict the damage by signing Vasco striker Badru Keke Ibrahim and defender Daniel Bidemi from the relegated Shillong Lajong outfit. Among the retained players, defender Omoloja Nurain Kareem is the only recognized name. With Bidemi and Omoloja, their defense looks strong, but midfield is a little inexperienced. In the attacking third, they have promising home grown players like Ajay Singh, Balwant Singh and Saran Singh, who was transfered from Churchill Brothers, to support Nigerian Ibrahim. From his stint with Lajong FC it can be observed that Daniel Bidemi can also double up as a striker if required.
The biggest boost for the Ludhiana boys is the return of Sukhwinder Singh as the Chief Coach. Sukhi had left the club last season due to his assignment with India under-21 team which played in the Asian Games. The presence of the veteran tactician is bound to bring a positive atmosphere in the dressing room and the huge JCT fan base in the Northern India will hope for another strong show in this league edition as well.
Coach : Sukhwinder Singh / Parminder Singh
Key Players : Keke Ibrahim, Daniel Bidemi, Omoloja Kareem, Ajay Singh
Best I-League Performance : Champion (1996/97)
Last I-League Performance : 7th
Team’s Ambition : Finish in Top-10
TheHardTackle’s Predicted Finishing Standing : 10th
The National Club of India, as the Green & Maroon brigade is known as, finished in 5th position in their last I-League campaign. In a bid to recapture the league, the three times national league champions made some high profile signings in the summer and also retained their core group of players. They sacked coach Karim Bencharifa after last season’s disappointing show and roped in Stanley Rozario, who had decent success while managing Shilling Lajong FC. But Rozario failed to get things back on track and has handed over his resignation to the club authority. Former Red & Gold coach ASEAN Cup winning coach Subhash Bhowmick will replace Stanley Rozario at the helm of the affairs at Bagan. But as Subhash does not have an AFC “A” license, the post of the Technical Director has been created for him and the club will have to find a suitable candidate for the position of the coach to fulfill the AFC criteria.
Jose Ramirez Barreto, one of the finest players to have graced Indian football arena, will again be their prime hope. Edeh Chidi had a decent first season with the club and he is expected to perform better in this edition. Inclusion of Subair Muritala Ali from Mahindra United gives the Mariners’ attack a three pronged edge. On paper, Barreto-Chidi-Muritala combination is the best in the country and the fans will hope that the trio will help them to get back their glorious days.
They have a reliable pair of goalkeepers in veteran Sangram Mukherjee and the talented Shilton Pal. Defense is their main area of concern as they lack a big name in this department. Sagaram Mandi, Sheikh Azim, Kingshuk Debnath are all promising but largely untested so far. Situation will improve with the arrival of national team players like Surkumar Singh and Rakesh Masih, but for that to happen they will have to wait until February next year.
With players like Jayanta Sen, Manish Mathani, Snehasish Chakraborty, Ishfaq Ahmed, Gouranga Dutta and the new signing Okwy Okonkow Diamondstar, the midfield looks decent. But the same cannot be said about their reserve bench strength.
The season did not start off too well for the Mariners and they lost the Kolkata League crown to the rival tent of East Bengal. They reached the final of prestigious Federation Cup, but once again it was East Bengal who proved to be their nemesis. Subhash Bhowmick will expect a better show from his team in the biggest stage of Indian football.
Coach / TD : TBD/ Subhash Bhowmick
Key Players : Barreto, Chidi, Muritala, Snehasish, Sangram, Jayanta
Best I-League Performance : Champion (1997/98, 1999/2000, 2001/02)
Last I-League Performance : 5th
Team’s Ambition : Title contenders
TheHardTackle’s Predicted Finishing Standing : 6th
The 2008 I-League 2nd division champions performed admirably well in their first I-League appearance in 2008/09 season when they finished 7th. For a club which was established in 2007, their performance graph was impressive in the first two season of their existence. But their sharp decline started soon after and in the last edition they battled hard to avoid relegation and finished in 11th position with just 2 points ahead of the relegated Sporting Club de Goa team.
There is no high expectations for the 2010/11 season and they will be content with a repeat of their last performance. Indian international star Abhishek Yadav and former East Bengal striker Malswamkima are the two big names in their squad. They have also signed Nigerian forward Henry Ezeh from Kolkata Port Trust this season. Veteran Noel Wilson and Nigerian midfielder Ebi Sukore will share the midfield responsibility for the Borivali based club. Ghanain defender Evans Quao is their third foreigner. One of the supremely talented midfielders of his time, Khalid Jamil has been retained as the Technical Director. Aged 33 years, he is also the youngest manager in the I-League by quite a good margin. Subrata Bhattacharjee (Jr), who possesses AFC “A” license will act as the coach under the guidance of Jamil.
Coach / TD : Subrata Bhattacharjee (Jr.) / Khalid Jamil.
Key Players : Abhishek Yadav, Malswamkima, Henry Ezeh, Ebi Sukore
Best I-League Performance : 7th
Last I-League Performance : 11th
Team’s Ambition : Finish above relegation zone
TheHardTackle’s Predicted Finishing Standing : 11th
ONGC FC is patronaged by Indian public sector undertaking giant ONGC Ltd. Incidentally, they were also the title sponsor of the country’s top tier football league – the I-League – till last edition. They qualified to play in I-League 2010/11 by virtue of winning the last edition of I-League 2nd division title. The institutional team is based out of Mumbai and Cooperage stadium will host their home matches.
With the aim to make a mark in the national level in its maiden appearance, the club officials built a decent squad. They managed to sign Nigerian trio of Babatunde Rabiu, N.D. Opara and Peter Odafe on the dotted line. While Babtunde and Opara will form the attacking combination, Odafe will shoulder the defensive responsibility. Their main strength lies with a strong back line which also features the promising Gaur Naskar, Kamal Thapa and Robin Gurung. Former Air India player Kailash Patil, veteran India midfielder Jatin Singh Bisth and Tapan Maity are established names in Indian football and these three will marshal their midfield. Former East Bengal goalkeeper Rajat Ghosh Dastidar will guard the ONGC fort.
AFC “A” license holder Sujit Chakrabarty is an experienced coach and club officials deserve credit for roping him in. Their ambition in the debut season will not be very high and they will be happy to stay afloat in the top division.
Coach : Sujit Chakrabarty
Key Players : Babatunde, N.D. Opara, Jatin Singh Bist, Tapan Maity, Gaur Naskar, Kailash Patil
Best I-League Performance : Debut Season
Last I-League Performance : Debut Season
Team’s Ambition : Finish above relegation zone
TheHardTackle’s Predicted Finishing Standing : 9th
Pune Football Club is one of the most professionally managed football clubs in the country and they are owned by Ashok Parimal Group of Companies and sponsored by Peninsula Land Ltd and Morarjee Textiles. They took the football fraternity in the country by storm when they finished 3rd in their debut I-League appearance. Under the guidance of Derrick Perreira, Pune FC is considered to be the dark horse in this I-League edition.
They are a pretty balanced outfit with the right mix of experience and youth. They have signed Mondjou Keita from Portland Timbers and along with Brazilian Edmar Figuera, their attacking department looks promising. Comparatively their midfield is a bit weak and the departure of Sergey Tokov, Godwin Franco and Djidjia Douhou Pierre might hurt their ambitions. Veteran Sanmugam Venkatesh is the main creative force behind this team and he will be supported by Krishnan Ajayan, whom they roped in from Mahindra United. Arata Izumi, the Japanese attacking midfielder who was impressive in his debut I-League season will look to continue his amazing form in this edition as well. Pune FC also signed Senegal defender Lamine Tamba and Paresh Shivalkar from the disbanded Mahindra United.
Subrata Pal, the best goalkeeper in the country at this moment, is Pune FC’s first choice custodian, however he will remain busy with the Indian national team till Asia Cup and in his absence Balaji Narasimhan will have to step in and perform well. The presence of shrewd tactician Derrick Perreira as the coach will also boost the young player’s confidence.
Coach : Derrick Perreira
Key Players : Arata Izumi, Edmar, Venkatesh, Keita, Subrata Pal
Best I-League Performance : 3rd
Last I-League Performance : 3rd
Team’s Ambition : Top-3 finish
TheHardTackle’s Predicted Finishing Standing : 7th
Vasco based Goan club Salgaocar, record 19 times winner of Goa Professional League, used to be a powerhouse in Indian football arena during the late 90s. They won the national football league in 1998/99 under the guidance of Shabbir Ali. After the emergence of Churchill Brothers and Dempo SC under the sponsorship of rich owners, Salgaocar’s decline started and they even got relegated to the second division and clawed their way back to top flight in 2009.
Determined to repeat their glorious past performances, Salgaocar built a strong team under the guidance of high profile coach Karim Bencharifa this year. Karim made quite a few high profile signings in the transfer window to strengthen every department.
Karanjit Singh, transfered from JCT FC, will be their first choice goalkeeper. Former Churchill man Khelemba Singh, Peter Costa, Rino Anto and Brazilian Luciano Sabrosa form a formidable back-line. Sabrosa is also the club captain. Karim also roped in former Green & Maroon Japanese midfielder Ryuji Sueoka, who will partner Tomba Singh and Anthony Barbosa in their midfield.
Karim is spoilt for choices in the attacking department which includes former East Bengal forward Yusif Yakubu, Subhash Singh, Bevan D’Mello, Anthony Barbosa and the promising academy product Gilbert Olivera. The inclusion of Nigerian striker Ekene Ikenwa from East Bengal will fortify Salgaocar’s strike force.
Coach : Karim Bencharifa
Key Players : Yakubu, Sueoka, Ekene, Anthony Barbosa, Luciano Sabrosa
Best I-League Performance : Champion (1998/99)
Last I-League Performance : 6th
Team’s Ambition : Top-3 Finish
TheHardTackle’s Predicted Finishing Standing : 3rd
The only representative from the football crazy state of Kerala enjoys massive fan support. They achieved a creditable 10th place finish in the last edition after getting relegated the previous year. This year will mark Viva Kerala’s maiden I-League appearance on their brand new Kannur home ground. AFC “A” licensed coach P.K. Kunhikrishnan has been appointed as Viva Kerala’s new coach.
They lost few key players in the offseason transfer market and with a limited budget at their disposal they targeted promising young talents without running after big stars. The departure of captain and playmaker M.P. Shakeer is the biggest loss for the Neelapada outfit and as a damage control mechanism they roped in Kalia Kulothungan from Mohun Bagn. They have also recruited few talented youngsters from Chandini FC and promoted few of their under-19 players into the senior team. Nigerian defender Bello Razaq and striker Felix Chimaokwo will be the key players for Viva Kerala this season. Among the Indian players, midfielder T. Karma and striker C.S. Sabeeth are the established names apart from Kulothungan.
Coach : P.K. Kunhikrishnan
Key Players : Bello Razaq, Felix Chimaokwo, Kulothungan, T. Karma, Sabeeth
Best I-League Performance : 10th
Last I-League Performance : 10th
Team’s Ambition : Finish above relegation zone
TheHardTackle’s Predicted Finishing Standing : 14th