The season saw another fairytale as underdogs Chennai City won their maiden top flight title on the final day of the league.
With Chennai City’s thrilling win on Saturday, the latest I-League season has now also wrapped up. While Real Kashmir and Minerva Punjab’s game remains, just as a formality, the league season is effectively over after producing some fireworks over the past few months. There were spills, thrills and chills as the South Indian side pulled off an extraordinary underdog tale to continue the I-League’s majestic tradition.
That being said, the other teams also produced their own moments of brilliance throughout and certain players raised their game to be well over the others. This I-league also gave rise to some blooming talents, along with recognition to the experienced ones. So, here we’ll look at the I-League Team of the Season.
Goalkeeper: Bilal Khan (Real Kashmir)
He surprised many by leaving Gokulam Kerala for Real Kashmir in the summer, yet Bilal Khan’s solid work for the Snow Leopards made his move worth it. He’s blended into Dave Robertson’s style well and looked up to the task on every single occasion this season. Bilal’s kept 10 clean-sheets in 19 appearances so far, while also having conceded the least number of goals with only 14.
Bilal has been an alert, elastic figure under the bar and made crucial saves time and again. He was a key reason for Kashmir’s blooming season and deserves a national team opportunity for his heroics.
I-League Team of the Season 2018-19
Right-Back: Edwin Vanspaul (Chennai City FC)
There was doubt about whether Edwin Vanspaul would even be at Chennai City this season. In the end, he made the right decision in continuing with the club. After being moved to right-back by Akbar Nawas, Vanspaul thrived by having more opportunities to go forward.
That being said, he fulfilled his defensive duties really well as well and kept out some of the league’s best players in crucial matches. Edwin linked-up with Romario Jesuraj, making more than five assists despite playing in a more defensive role.
Center-Back: Borja Gomez Perez (East Bengal)
While all the hype and anticipation was pit on Jonny Acosta, East Bengal’s statement signing, it was Borja Gomez who proved to be their leader in defence. He did fantastic work to adapt himself to Alejandro Menendez’s style efficiently and backed up a stumbling Acosta as well. Gomez also made things easier for Manoj Mohamed and Lalram Chullova, giving them the freedom to put in tackles and go forward.
Borja proved to be a rock at the back for East Bengal
He was a rock in many games, helping East Bengal see out games with his intelligence and tough-tackling demeanour. Borja helped his side keep five clean-sheets, producing terrific performances in the Kolkata Derbies and several other big matches, rounding off a solid season for himself.
Center-Back: Loveday Okechukwu (Real Kashmir)
The Real Kashmir captain led from the front in enabling the Snow Leopards to keep an impenetrable defensive shape, something which helped them win so many points. Loveday was an absolute colossus in defence for the Kashmir side, becoming Robertson’s warrior at the back and bailing his side out of trouble many times.
A composed figure, the defender’s superior physical acumen, impressive positional sense and tackling ability worked in his favour. The Nigerian’s superb work was proved, as he kept out Manzi twice and troubled likes of Willis Plaza and Jobby Justin. He produced some solid performances when it mattered the most, helping Kashmir shut out opposition and keep 10 clean-sheets in 19 games.
Left-Back: Ajithkumar Kamaraj (Chennai City FC)
The Chennai City left-back was an absolute revelation for them throughout, being a vibrant figure on the left flank, whilst helping them remain defensively aware as well. Kamaraj was allowed to roam forward whenever he pleased and thrived in the freedom Akbar Nawas allowed him. He displayed impressive pace and determination to go forward, bombarding through the left whenever he could.
Kamaraj’s brilliant work helped to break open many opposition, as he also recorded multiple assists to reward his hard work. He also helped his side keep five clean-sheets, with his performances against the Kolkata giants being a prime example of his talent.
Central Defensive Midfield: Amarjit Kiyam (Indian Arrows)
The difference in stature, confidence and temperament between Amarjit Kiyam in his first I-League season and the recently concluded one was a hell and heaven one. Under a more encouraging manager in Floyd Pinto, the youngster took pride in leading his side to overcome all the odds and surprised many with their inspired revival.
Amarjit (left) was one of the best performers for the Indian Arrows
Kiyam scored two minutes into his first game, setting up what would go on to become a solid season for the Arrows’ midfield. He controlled possession for them really well, while helping trouble opposition with his energetic demeanour.
Not only was Kiyam’s stability on the ball displayed, but he also showed nerves of steel with some crucial penalties which won the Arrows big points. The captain’s diligent work helped them finish an impressive seventh, a major upgrade from their poor finish under Luis Matos.
Right Attacking Midfield: Laldanmawia Ralte (East Bengal)
Change in manager? No problem! Laldanmawia surely did take his time to blend into Menendez’s system, but repaid his coach’s faith with another prolific season in the I-League. He was a sparkling figure in East Bengal’s attack, troubling opposition with his unpredictable movement and incisiveness in the final third. Danmawia’s greatest moments came in both Kolkata Derbies, in which he played a crucial part to pull off the double against Mohun Bagan.
Apart from that, he sizzled up East Bengal’s game on his best days and produced some stunning goals. He scored eight goals and also delivered some important assists, as he ended his team’s season on a fleeting high by scoring their final goal against Gokulam Kerala.
Attacking Midfield: Willis Plaza (Churchill Brothers)
Last season, Willis Plaza was the butt of many jokes at East Bengal. Cast out after a poor showcase, Churchill Brothers took him in. After recovering from nagging injuries, the Trinidad and Tobago player came out all guns blazing this campaign for a rejuvenated Red Machines. Plaza scored against just about everyone he faced and led Churchill to victory throughout the season.
Willis Plaza has been a revelation for Churchill Brothers this season
He showed signs of a complete striker with his electric movement, clinical finishing ability and physical strength. Plaza scored 21 goals, including crucial ones against Chennai City, East Bengal and Bagan. He thrived under the responsibility of being Churchill’s primary goal-getter and proved his striking ability with a scintillating season for the Red Machines.
Left Attacking Midfield: Dawda Ceesay (Churchill Brothers)
Plaza wasn’t the only masterstroke Churchill pulled off in the attacking department. He was rallied on by Dawda Ceesay, who was the quiet driving force in Churchill’s midfield. Ceesay captained the side to victories many times, helping them stay afloat in the title race. He showcased intelligence with his movement and his work on the left wing was exemplary.
Thanks to his superior crossing ability, pace and fluid chemistry with Plaza, the Churchill #10 scored three goals and assisted nine, the highest in the I-League this season. He lit up their attack with his creativity and despite falling victim to injuries towards the end, Ceesay’s impact created special moments for the Red Machines.
Forward: Jobby Justin (East Bengal)
Jobby Justin was given the responsibility to be East Bengal’s main striker, something he grabbed with both hands. With Enrique Esqueda and later Jaime Santos beside him, Justin thrived leading the Red and Gold Brigade’s attack and brightened it up with his clinical attributes.
Justin finished the season as the highest Indian scorer in the league
Having grown into a more experienced striker, Justin was able to easily get past defenders and score goals on a more consistent basis. He scored nine goals for East Bengal, with his performances in the Kolkata Derbies attaining him heroic status. Despite missing the last couple of matches, his sublime work in attack raised his chances of a national team call-up.
Forward: Pedro Manzi (Chennai City FC)
Not many Indian fans knew much about Pedro Manzi before he came to the I-League. But, after he scored the stunning hat-trick against Indian Arrows, all the attention turned towards him. Manzi didn’t allow the attention to be diverted anytime soon. He led Chennai City confidently throughout the season, coming up with goals and assists whenever they needed them.
Manzi was the highest scorer of the I-League this season
The Spaniard scored 21 goals this season, which included multiple hat-tricks that won many points for his team. Manzi’s movement and deadly finishing ability worked perfectly to trouble opposition, as he allowed those around him to benefit from his skills as well. He ended up not only leading them to the title, but also winning the Golden Boot, after what ended up as a fantastic personal campaign for the Spaniard.
Prabhsukhan Gill (Indian Arrows)
After Dheeraj Singh’s departure, Prabhsukhan took the Arrows’ mantle in goal and bloomed over this season. He was excellent, keeping five clean-sheets and saving his side from trouble time and again.
Boris Singh (Indian Arrows)
Played in a more attacking role, Boris thrived under Pinto and was a relentless hard-worker. He provided some key assists thanks to his electric style, showcasing an undying spirit which lifted the young side.
Dharmaraj Ravanan (Real Kashmir)
The experienced defender might be regretting leaving champions Chennai City, but was rock-solid for Real Kashmir. Despite his age, Ravanan shut out the best attackers and helped his side to 10 clean-sheets.
Phrangki Buam (Shillong Lajong)
The youngster was a bright spark in Shillong Lajong’s gloomy season, lighting up their game with his skilful nature. Buam scored six goals in the doomed season, including impressive performances against the big sides which must’ve caught the attention of many.
Kassim Aidara (East Bengal)
Despite leaving Menendez unimpressed with his initial work, Aidara grew in stature slowly and helped solidify East Bengal’s midfield. His energy, tough-tackling nature and distribution skills made him a vital figure to help them dominate games, especially in the second half of the season.
Subhash Singh (NEROCA FC)
Subhash was NEROCA’s driving factor in attack throughout the season, lighting up their game with moments of magic. He scored four goals and assisted as many in another prolific campaign, helping the Orange Army entertain fans with their positive approach.
Lalkhawpuimawia (Aizawl FC)
Mostly operating as a super-sub, Mapuia showcased his clinical striking ability against multiple top sides and won crucial points for Aizawl. He scored six goals and helped his side avoid the drop with some inspired performances throughout the campaign.