The Indian Super League season 2 played a major role in decorating the calendar year 2015 for Indian football. After the ISL 2015 final, there probably wasn't any Indian football fan who wasn't saying the three-month football tournament was a complete blockbuster.
The highlight of the ISL this time was goals coming in the dying moments of games. Of course, the number of goals was way more than in the previous season, but what was even better was the goals came at unexpected junctures.
That is exactly what did the trick this year, and we can't thank Stiven Mendoza, the Golden Boot winner of ISL 2015, enough for being instrumental in making the tournament a grand success.
Indian footballers also did stunningly well. Alongside experienced overseas players, our domestic stars played a big role in giving the competition a major boost this time. Jeje Lalpekhlua, who finished as the highest Indian scorer in the ISL this time, linked up with Mendoza and Bruno Pelissari at Chennaiyin FC on several occasions to brew nothing but magic.
Even Sunil Chhetri's link-up with Mohun Bagan hotshot Sony Norde at Mumbai City FC was another display of brilliant football. Robin Singh, Thongkhosiem Haokip, Anas Edathodika, Jackichand Singh, Thoi Singh, Sanju Pradhan and many more Indian footballers stepped up during the ISL and made a name for themselves.
But the success of the beautiful game in India was not confined only to the ISL season 2. I-League — the domestic football league of the country — also did stunningly well this time, and the average viewership of the league was the highest this time. That says it all.
Football fans on social media have said more than once that it was the success of ISL season 1 that brought them close to the I-League. And this section of football fans couldn't have asked for a better I-League season.
To have a final in a football league season is very rare in any part of the world, and I-League 2015 did the unexpected; Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC locked in a battle to bag the coveted title on the last day of the league, and the resilience of the away side proved the difference. The Kolkata giants won the game, and the day made history in Indian football.
The best part was that news channels, print media, online media, and social media lapped up Mohun Bagan's win like never before. Did Indian football make a mark with this? Sure it did!
Nevertheless, the ongoing debate between the I-League and the ISL persisted throughout the year. Word everywhere was ISL was the icing on the cake for Indian football that was always missing. However, certain sections opined that the I-League was doing more for the national team, and the league is the reason so many Indian star footballers were born over the years.
Nobody is wrong here, if you see the big picture, but the debate did bring out one valid point — the prospect of a single league in India. Merger of the ISL and the I-League has dominated discussions on Twitter and Facebook all round the year, and the best part was even AIFF bigwigs said they were looking for a merger in some years.
The road ahead is difficult for Indian football, but what transpired this year has certainly given the roadmap for a better future. Discussions of the game in the country were at an all-time high, the ISL provided the much-need gliteratti, the I-League also gave birth to new Indian football stars. What's left behind? The national team.
Experienced British tactician Stephen Constantine was roped in as head coach for the national team this year, to pave a great road ahead. The ex-Rwanda coach did have a not-so-lucky start, with frustrating results, especially in the Russia 2018 World Cup Preliminary Joint Qualifiers, but he slowly and steadily seems to have found his footing.
At one point, it looked as if Constantine was facing the boot this year itself, after a string of losses in the competition, but a win against Guam in Bengaluru last month changed it all. Robin Singh was the man to thank. The SAFF Cup 2015 also provided the national team much-needed impetus. Constantine's army defeated Sri Lanka in the opener just days ago, and decimated Nepal in the next game. A future was also born in the game in the form of 18-year-old Lallianzuala Chhangte.
A win in a possible final of SAFF Cup 2015 in the first week of January 2016 could give them a super boost. India enter 2016 with a FIFA ranking of 166; the national team were ranked 174 — their lowest ever — this year as well. And it gives you a glimpse of what a roller-coaster year it has been for the national football team.