I-League stars

Published : Dec 12, 2009 00:00 IST


A long list of Nigerians have left their mark on Indian football since the explosive introduction of Chima Okorie to the Kolkata maidans in the mid 80s. Their towering physical presence has terrorised Indian defences and more often than not they have bagged the top scorers’ honours in competitions. The last three I-Leagues, for instance, saw the Churchill Brothers’ Odafa Okolie walking away with the golden boot.

This year, though, the early honours have gone to Chidi Edeh of Mohun Bagan who has notched up eight goals in as many outings. A double hat-trick, including a match-winning four goals against archrival East Bengal in the Kolkata derby, has catapulted him to instant stardom. More of a predator, lurking outside the box, the Nigerian, who has had a long stint in the country, starting with minor clubs in Kolkata before moving to Goa, has at last found his bearings. He will undoubtedly be instrumental to Mohun Bagan’s fortunes if the Karim Bencherifa-managed side wants to go one better than its second place finish last year.


Chirag United has been in red-hot form this I-League, sharing the second spot with Goan giant Dempo. While the Brazilian duo, Edmilson and Josimar, have received all the plaudits for scoring at will, a certain Jayanta Sen is relishing staying behind the dynamic frontmen and doing his job. The former East Bengal midfielder has been in great touch and has already managed two man-of-the-match performances. Sen is one of the few holding midfielders in the country and a similar run of form in the second stage of the League might earn him an Indian call after years in waiting.


After winning the inaugural National League title, JCT’s fortunes have plummeted with their textile mill-owning financiers tightening the budget cap. Though mostly consisting of home grown Punjabi youth now, the team has managed to maintain its identity at the elite club competition. The arrival of forward Baljit Singh Saini has instilled hope in the side. Blessed with a sturdy build, like most Punjab players, Saini has raw pace that has decimated quite a few defences so far. His six goals at the end of the first eight rounds are the highest among Indian players. But Saini’s further participation in the I-League is doubtful as he was involved in a bike accident in Margao along with JCT defender Sushil Thakur. The forward suffered a wrist fracture and has been advised two months rest.


This forward of Nepali origin from Delhi is the new star in Indian football. Robbed of the chance to play for English club side QPR because of work permit problems, he has settled well at Dempo and continues to score to keep his English trackers ever interested. Considered the heir apparent to an aging Baichung Bhutia, Chettri is one of the favourites of the National team coach, Bob Houghton, and has generated interest from various English clubs such as Fulham, Leeds United and Coventry City.

One of the most agile and crafty forwards to have played in the country, Chettri’s work ethic has seen his stock skyrocket after a modest start with New Delhi based City Club. His 16 strikes in 35 matches for the national side have established him as a vital weapon in Houghton’s armoury.


Defenders with the perfect build for the job are a rarity in the country and both at the international and club levels Indian teams have suffered because of that. Towering above his peers at 6ft 3in, Anwar Ali has come as a messiah to Irishman Houghton. Along with his height advantage in aerial skirmishes, Anwar’s positional sense and hard tackling have been instrumental in India’s recent international success. Unearthed by JCT’s youth development system, the player made a switchover to Dempo at the onset of the current season.

Though a thigh injury has come in the way of regular first team appearances, he is expected to shoulder more responsibility with the start of the second phase of the I-League.


Vashum has been in the form of his life. He was the fulcrum of the defending I-League champion Churchill Brothers, which won the IFA Shield and Durand Cup earlier this season. A creative midfielder, he was absolutely unstoppable in those two tournaments and always seemed to be in a goal-scoring position when you least expected him to be there. Vashum has had a good time in the I-League campaign too, carrying the team forward through an unconvincing start to its campaign. He is the joint highest-scoring midfielder so far and his darting runs down the wing have been fully utilised by the Churchill forwards, bringing the the team to the top of the table.

Ayon Sengupta

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