ISL stars: Sunil Chhetri's pick

Picking 10 players — five Indians and five foreigners — who influenced the League in a big way wasn’t the easiest of tasks. However, here is my list, and it may have a few surprises!

Sunil Chhetri   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

Two months of hectic football has ended with Chennaiyin FC scripting a fantastic victory in the final of the second season of the Indian Super League; and deservedly so. As I had mentioned in my previous column, it was nothing short of a fantastic experience, as the League threw up so many amazing moments, turnarounds and goals. Picking 10 players — five Indians and five foreigners — who influenced the League in a big way wasn’t the easiest of tasks. However, here is my list, and it may have a few surprises!

Jeje Lalpekhlua (Chennaiyin FC)

He backed his talent with numbers this season — six goals and three assists in 10 games is a great stat for any striker in any league. He put his biggest attribute, his strength, to ample use in getting those goals. Chennaiyin’s story this season has been an amazing one, and Jeje has been in the forefront. He got vital goals in the game away to Pune and in the first leg semi-final against Atletico Kolkata. Well, he even scored against us! I have always thought much of him and it was nice to see him hit an impressive patch of form.

Anas Edathodika (Delhi Dynamos)

He isn’t the easiest on the eye but can be very effective, and that is what you want from your centre-half. He did really well in tandem with the far more experienced John Arne Riise and their partnership had a big role to play in Delhi’s run to the semi-finals. Anas has been around for some time now. He caught everyone’s attention during his time at Mumbai FC before he switched to Pune FC. He has the knack of picking up cards but that is simply because he refuses to shy away from a challenge or a tackle — an attribute most managers love.

Amrinder Singh (Atletico de Kolkata)

For me, he has been a revelation in this edition of the ISL. Not that he isn’t talented, but the way he stepped up was commendable. Atletico finished the season second only to Chennaiyin when it came to goals conceded (before the final) and Amrinder had a big hand to play in this. If I am not wrong, he was even praised by rival coaches as the reason that stood between them and a win. He has what it takes to be one of the best in the country.

Thoi Singh (Chennaiyin FC)

I know Thoi well enough having played with him the last two seasons at Bengaluru FC in the I-League. I can safely say he is every bit the machine that he is usually dubbed as. He may not have the deft touches, flicks and turns but when it comes to commitment, he is second to none. He will chase every ball down with the kind of determination that few can match. He is the guy that does all the hard work and he does it well. Marco Materazzi knew that well enough considering the way he used Thoi. A regular in Chennaiyin’s scheme of things, Thoi justified his selling price at the auction with some consistently solid performances.

Mehrajuddin Wadoo (Chennaiyin FC)

This list has three players from Chennaiyin, but the fact that they ended as champions justifies their presence as a majority here. Mehraj is another player who I have known closely and while many have written him off as a ‘has been’, he has come back and shown just why he is still a force to reckon with. He has come up with some very handy performances in the right-back position. It was only fitting that he had some part to play in the vital goal in the final, when his long-range attempt to find Stiven Mendoza ended up in the back of the net after the FC Goa goalkeeper, Laxmikant Kattimani, made a hash of his attempt to collect the ball.

Iain Hume (Atletico de Kolkata)

The Canadian caught my eye in the first season when he turned out for Kerala Blasters. He brought all those attributes and more to the second season as well with a different team. His work rate is what sets him apart from most players and he backs it with goals to show. He scored two hat-tricks (we were at the receiving end of one) in the tournament and had a stunner of a goal to show in the second leg semi-final against Chennai. Voted the best player of the inaugural season, Hume ended this season with 11 goals, and what is impressive is the fact that he went without a goal in the first six games. It tells you all you need to know about quality players refusing to let a lull last long.

Stiven Mendoza (Chennaiyin FC)

The ‘Hero of the League’, the golden boot winner, earning two penalties in the final and then scoring from open play — this sums up the Colombian in a single line. He has all it takes to be a top striker — speed, skill and the fact that he won’t let his shoulders drop. His anticipation is brilliant. If you look back at some of his goals that may seem like simple tap-ins, you will see the kind of awareness he displays to get into the best possible position to score. He finished the second season with 13 goals and 3 assists, and it would have been an absolute shame if he ended with nothing to show for it. And yes, he even had a hat-trick.

Florent Malouda (Delhi Dynamos)

I don’t really think I should be explaining what makes Malouda good. He has come to this League after being capped close to 500 times for some of the top clubs in the world and has 80 caps for France. But what I should mention is the fact that he rubbished the claims of so many naysayer who went on about players like him bringing nothing but a name to the table. The former Chelsea man had eight assists in Dynamos’ campaign that saw them reach the semi-final stage. He brought to the field the kind of experience that turns out to be the difference on the night. He did a brilliant job of bridging the attack with defence and at times, it was an education.

Leo Moura (FC Goa)

Leo is a Brazilian and he delivered what is expected of every Brazilian — plenty of flair. His wiry frame meant he could be out-muscled, but that is only if you caught hold of him. To throw numbers at you, Moura played a record 1340 minutes at a stretch, had eight goal-assists and made 1039 passes out of which 803 were completed. One of the few players who has represented all of the big four Rio de Janerio teams (Botafogo, Vasco, Fluminense and Flamengo), he propelled Goa’s charge through the group stages and will be a name that fans will recall fondly.

Rafael Coelho (FC Goa)

Another name from FC Goa and one that may raise a few eyebrows, but the Brazilian has done enough to make my list. A replacement to the injured Victor Simoes, Zico got this swap bang on. He played just a handful of games for Goa but his contribution in all of them was more than noteworthy. He earned his side two penalties in the game against Chennaiyin and then followed that up with a brilliant solo goal against Pune City FC. I have no doubt whatsoever that he would have stamped his authority on the League in a big way had he been in it from the start.

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