I-League 2013/14 would surely go down in the history as one of the most competitive seasons. Bengaluru FC created history when they became champions in their debut session triggering a social media tsunami. The season which began late due to doubts regarding ISL witnessed some fascinating matches with both the title and relegation battle going down to the wire. The foreign strikers were among the goals as always but unlike the previous season Indian strikers made their presence felt with two for them featuring in our 4-3-3 team of the season. Champions Bengaluru FC dominate the list with as many as four players making it to the team of the season.
There have been some impressive performances under the bar but Karanjit Singh of Salgaocar makes it to the team of the season. The Punjabi goalkeeper has been a regular in the national team and has put it some impressive performances whenever the more talked about Subrata Paul has been unavailable. Just like last season, Karanjit was a rock under the post for Salgaocar and the Punjabi lad played in all the I-League and Federation cup matches keeping nine clean sheets in the process. Karanjit was one of the major reasons behind Salgoacar’ s impressive run this season.
Not a lot went well for Mohun Bagan this season but right back Pritam Kotal was a shining light in the team that failed to rise upto the expectations. After joining the Mariners, Pritam made the right back spot his own forcing Wahid Sali to warm the benches. Solid at the back, Pritam’s most important contribution was his overlapping runs which added another dimension to Bagan’s attack. Pritam notched up a few assists in the season and earned praise from all quarters for his impressive performances.
The defense line is led by Bengaluru FC central defender John Johnson who became a fan favorite is his debut season in the I-League. The former Middlesbrough player led the group of Indian defenders with Curtis Osano and played a key role in his side’ s impressive debut this season making it difficult for the rival strikers to score . He posed constant threat from the set pieces and scored three goals from the corners. The lanky defender won four man of the match awards and drew praise from fans all over the country.
Partnering him at the heart of the defense is Arnab Mondal of East Bengal who marshaled the back-four for the Lal-Hould brigade in absence of the seasoned Uga Okpara who missed the second half of the season due to injury. Despite making some errors, Mondal was his usual self and dished out some impressive performances for the kolkata giants despite the fact that the other defenders around him kept getting rotated. The 24 year old continued to be a key member of the national team as well and looks set to be part of the national team for a long time.
Dempo left back Narayan Das has been a revelation ever since he joined Arthur Papas at Dempo after initial few rounds. The former Arrows player had a stellar season with the Goan giants and was rewarded with a national team debut on back of some consistent and impressive performances. Das, who became the first player from Jharkhand to represent India, featured in almost all the matches after he joined Dempo and contributed well in attack besides providing solidity at the back. The youngster has a bright future ahead of him and could become a regular in the national team.
Beikhokhei Beingaichho, the 22 year old from Bengaluru FC makes it to the team of the season and the right winger was one of the major reasons for Bengaluru’ s impressive performances this season. Beikhoi was the creator of numerous goals for his club and Rooney, Chhetri & co benefited from his pin point crosses. The youngster notched up several assists besides scoring four goals himself in both the I-League and Federation Cup combined. The former East Bengal player beat rival defenders easily with his pace and trickery, who found it hard to mark him. The hardworking Mizo youngster also contributed from the set-pieces and infact all three of John Johnson’s headed goals coming from his corners.
34 year old John Menyongar from Bengaluru FC forms the pivot of the team. The former Dempo player silenced his critics who had described him as a spent force at the start of the season as he put an impressive shift in the heart of Bengaluru midfield throughout the season. His contribution can be measured from the fact that he started and completed each and every match for the I-League champions till round 23 (when Bengaluru became champions). Playing as a deep lying play-maker, Meyongar linked the back four with the club’ s attacking unit and his passing & vision was key to Ashley Westwood’s plan. The former Liberian captain scored three goals in the campaign and notched up several assists and his contribution to his team’ s triumph was no less than that of Chhetri or Rooney or Johnson.
Salgaocar’s Gilbert Oliveira completes the three man midfield and the left winger played a crucial role throughout the season though Darryl Duffy and Dudu Omagbemi hogged most of the limelight. The 23 year old played a staggering 2105 minutes in 23 matches averaging at almost 87 minutes per games and played all the 24 games in I-League this starting in 23 of those. A product of the Salgaocar youth academy, Gilbert was the highest scoring Indian midfielder in Indian Football this season with 6 goals in I-League and a goal in Federation Cup. Gilbert was a constant nightmare for the opposition defenders and his crosses were a major source of goals for the Goan Greens this season. Gilbert’ s performances would have made Wim Koevermans take note of him and the winger could be soon seen in the national team colors soon.
27 year old Balwant Singh has arguably been the find of the I-League 2013/14 season. Churchill Brothers endured a tough season and but Balwant Singh shone brightly for the Red Machines which culminated in his national team debut against Bangladesh. Fittingly it was Balwant who saved the relegation for the 2012/13 I-League champions as he scored the winner against Salgaocar on the final day of the season in a must win encounter. The former JCT player scored 10 goals in the I-League and also played a key role in his side’s Federation Cup triumph where he scored four goals. Balwant showed great technique and troubled opposition defenders with his pace and movement. Such was Balwant’s form that went past five defenders to net his debut AFC Cup goal for the club against Home United.
Shillong Lajong finished at the spot in the I-League, their best ever showing so far and a lot if credit for this goes to Cornell Glen who scored 13 goals in 17 matches this season. The FIFA World Cupper from Trinidad & Tobago lit up the I-League with some top notch performances. The 32 year old was a crucial player in the Lajong setup and the youngsters in the side benefited from his experience of playing at the top level. The striker beat the rival defenders with ease and his combination with Uilliams was a treat to watch. Glen scored four goals in the Federation Cup and notched up several assists as well. The striker earned three man of the match awards and is on radar of the top clubs across the nation.
Sunil Chhetri‘s decision to join Bengaluru FC and not the ISL unlike some of his Indian teammates like Syed Rahim Nabi, Subrata Paul and Gourmangi Singh paid rich dividends as the Indian and the Bengaluru FC skipper returned to his best form which saw him finish as the joint highest scorer in I-League this season earning five man of the match awards in the process. Under a professional setup at the newly formed side, Chhetri played as a support striker, on the left flank as well as the target man as per situation. In addition to scoring goals, Chhetri grabbed numerous assists and led the newly formed team from the front who often looked up to him for inspiration. The AIFF of the year capped off a wonderful year with some improved performances with the national team where he became the highest Indian goalscorer of all times.
Notable Mentions – Sean Rooney, Boithang Haokip, Calum Angus, Darryl Duffy, Francis Fernandes, Joshimar, Clifford Miranda, Colin Abranches, Cavin Lobo, Curtis Osano, Douhou Pierre, Siam Hangal, Lalrindika Ralte, Harmanjot Singh Khabra.