I-League 2019-20: Five foreign players to watch out for

The 2019-20 I-League season will run from 30 November to 5 April. This season will feature 11 teams and a number of talented foreign players.

Jaime Santos Colado moved to India in November 2018. (File Image)   -  SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

The 13th edition of the I-League, the second division of Indian football, will get underway on November 30. The opening clash will see Aizawl FC host Mohun Bagan in a 2pm kickoff. 

Ahead of the season-opener, Sportstar picks out five of the top best talents to look out for this I-League season:

Kallum Higginbotham (Real Kashmir FC)

 

After spending three seasons with Dunfermline in the Scottish Championship, Kallum Higginbotham moved to Real Kashmir on a one-year deal. The English forward, who has only played in English and Scottish leagues – across divisions – so far, was convinced by coach David Robertson and the documentary produced by BBC to make the move to Kashmir.

He was one of 15 players who left Dunfermline at the end of last season. In his three campaigns there, he made 114 appearances, scoring 19 goals, helping the team reach the Premiership promotion play-offs in 2017/18.

Initially, in the running for a historic title, Real Kashmir lacked the potency in front of the goal – only two clubs scored fewer goals last season – to sustain the challenge. The addition of the 30-year-old shows that the club has addressed its shortcoming, especially after losing the impressive Surchandra Singh to Mumbai City FC.

READ| I-League 2019-20: Five Indian players to watch out for

Pedro Manzi (Chennai City FC)

Pedro Manzi in action against Shillong Lajong in a home fixture for Chennai City FC.   -  J. Manoharan

 

Former Barcelona and Manchester City technical scout Jordi Vila joined Chennai City as its Technical Director and one of his first big moves was to sign Pedro Manzi from the lower rungs of the Spanish football. Plying his trade at L'Hospitalet, a Spanish third division team, the Spanish-Uruguayan striker scored 17 goals across the season to take the team to the promotion playoffs. The experienced forward thrived under coach Akbar Nawas. He top-scored with 21 goals, including four hat-tricks, to help the club claim its maiden I-League title. 

With Willis Plaza, who also scored 21 goals last season, moving to Bangladesh, he should be the bookies’ favourite to take home the Golden Boot. CCFC is taking part in the AFC Champions League preliminary rounds later this year and the club’s fortunes both at home and across the continent depend on the 29-year-old finding his scoring boots again.

Joseba Beitia (Mohun Bagan)

Mohun Bagan’s four foreign players are all Spaniards this season, with the latest being midfielder Joseba Beitia. The Spaniard, who played alongside Antoine Griezmann in Real Sociedad’s youth teams, will be plying his trade outside the comforts of the Spanish border for the first time in his career.

Unlike most new signings, the midfielder – who can play in the middle of the pitch or behind the striker as a No. 10 – starts the campaign as a vital member of the squad after eye-catching performances in the Durand Cup, where the club reached the final, and the Sheikh Kamal International Club Cup in Bangladesh where it reached the semifinals.

After finishing fifth last season, 13 points behind rival East Bengal and not involved in the title race at any point, the Mariners will be banking on his creative spark to make a strong start to the season.

ALSO READ| I-League 2019-20: Aizawl FC, Mohun Bagan to kick off new season

Katsumi Yusa (Chennai City FC)

Katsumi Yusa was a free agent after his one-year spell with NEROCA FC.   -  Biswaranjan Rout

 

Katsumi Yusa is not new to Indian football. He moved to India in 2011, joining ONGC from Paraguayan side San Lorenzo. Despite suffering relegation in his first season, he stayed with the club and helped it get promoted right away.

He then moved to Mohun Bagan where he made a name for himself. Partnering Sony Norde, he spent three productive seasons, making over 100 appearances and even captaining the team to the I-League title in 2014-15.

Since then, the Japanese has had mixed spells at NorthEast United FC, East Bengal and Neroca FC.

It is a shrewd move by CCFC to sign him as he will also fulfil the club’s Asian foreign player quota for its AFC Cup and AFC Champions League campaigns.

Apart from that, he will be making up for the loss of Nestor Gordillo, who moved to Hyderabad FC in the summer. Add his creativity to Pedro Manzi’s productivity and on paper, it looks like a match made in heaven.

Jaime Santos Colado (East Bengal)

Jaime Santos Colado moved to India in November 2018 and made his club debut in the 3-2 derby win against arch-rival Mohun Bagan. He immediately made a strong impression and his performances stayed consistent throughout the season as East Bengal finished second, just one point behind Chennai City FC.

A right-winger by trade, he loves cutting inside and getting into goalscoring positions. After scoring five goals in 14 league games — 12 of which he started, the club extended his contract by two years in the offseason.

Unlike most foreigners, the 24-year-old moved to India as a youngster and has had a season to settle down. He is one of the first names on the team sheet and in Alejandro Menendez, he has a head coach who believes in his abilities. If the Red and Gold Brigade is to go a step further and win its maiden I-League title, the Spaniard will have to fire in the goals.

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