The league will be held behind closed doors this season due to COVID-19-related concerns.
The I-League is back with another action-packed season! Although it is starting late due to the coronavirus pandemic, the excitement among the Indian football fans is still the same. The entire league is set to be held in West Bengal in a bio-bubble, where clubs will observe all the safety precautions.
Prior to the season, there has been some footballing action with the I-League Qualifiers and the IFA Shield taking place. Therefore, the teams are ready for action as we also have new entrants in Sudeva FC from the country’s capital. Meanwhile, Mohammedan Sporting Club are also make a comeback to the I-League.
Ahead of the new season, let us take a look at the head coaches of each of the teams this season:
Stanley Rozario (Aizawl FC)
One of the well-known coaches in the Indian football scene, Stanley Rozario will continue to lead former I-League champions Aizawl FC this season. The Reds have a strong unit with a good mix of overseas experience and the youthful exuberance of local players. Rozario, who was with the club last season as well is very confident that Aizawl will turn heads this time around in the I-League.
The Bengaluru-born tactician started his coaching career with Services and then joined the Indian Army. He then became the assistant coach of the Indian national team under Bob Houghton.
The 60-year-old has had successful stints with clubs like East Bengal, Salgaocar, Shillong Lajong and Mohun Bagan. He also worked as an assistant to Stuart Watkiss at Bharat FC. However, now he has made Mizoram his home and the Reds will hope that Rozario’s experience will help their young brigade to prosper this season.
Satyasagara (Chennai City FC)
With the departure of Singaporean tactician Akbar Nawas, Chennai City decided to appoint Satyasagara as their new head coach. He was Nawas’ assistant and knows the players really well. Hence, the management has shown trust in him. Having been with the club for a long time, he is familiar with the culture and the philosophy that the former I-League champions seek to foster.
Overall the Singapore-based tactician has a lot of experience in coaching in his native. He has worked with clubs like Tampines Rovers, Gombak United, LionsXII, Hougang United. Satyasagara also had a stint with Malayasian club Negeri Sembilan as an assistant coach. He has worked with the Singapore U-23 and also the Singaporean Women’s football team as well.
Santiago Varela (Churchill Brothers)
The former I-League champions will be led by experienced Spanish tactician Fernando Santiago Varela. The 47-year old UEFA Pro License holder was in-charge of Gokulam Kerala last season. Varela won the Kerala Premier League and followed it with by bagging the Durand Cup. The Durand victory was considered significant, as the Malabarians defeated both the Kolkata giants on their way to glory.
Although Varela has shown pedigree to lead a team to success in India, an underwhelming season with the Malabarians in the I-League saw him part ways with the club. However, the Red Machines have shown trust in his abilities. Theywill be hoping that the Spaniard can reap rewards for them this season.
Vincenzo Alberto Annese (Gokulam Kerala)
Italian tactician Vincenzo Annese will be entrusted to guide Gokulam Kerala in the I-League this season. Annese is one of the youngest coaches on Indian soil, but he is not short on experience. The 36-year old tactician has been a journeyman, as he started his career in the lower divisions of Italian football for a team known as Fidelis Andria Giovanili. He then became the conditioning coach of Serie C outfit Foggia followed by stints in Estonia, Latvia, Ghana, Palestine, Indonesia, and Kosovo.
Annese also has experience of working with youth, as he had a stint with the Armenia U-19 side and before joining Gokulam he was the head coach of the Belize national team. It will be interesting to see how the Italian imposes himself and guides the Malabarians this season.
Shanmugam Venkatesh (Indian Arrows)
Just like last season, Shanmugam Venkatesh will be leading the Indian Arrows in the I-League. The Indian assistant coach has done some great grassroots development over the years and is still continuing the good work by scouting young talents who can make it big in the sport. Venkatesh, as a player, had stints with most of the big clubs in the country along with 35 appearances for India.
He has also been serving as an assistant coach of the national team since 2015 and has been pivotal in the development of Indian players over the years. He was the head coach of the Indian Arrows last season as well and a lot of players from that team have moved up to the ISL.
Jose Hevia (Mohammedan Sporting)
Spanish coach Jose Hevia will guide Mohammedan Sporting in their comeback season in the I-League. The Black Panthers won the I-League Qualifiers a few months ago and gained promotion to the I-League this season. Hevia is not new to Indian football, he has been in this country for several years and has worked with several teams. The Spaniard started his journey in India when he was appointed as the technical director of now-defunct club FC Pune City. He then also worked with the FC Pune City youth team followed by a stint with Minerva Punjab’s U-18 side, where he later became the assistant manager.
The UEFA Pro License holder then had stints with Madhya Bharat FC and Shillong Lajong. At Lajong he worked with the local players and helped them reach a certain level. However, this will undoubtedly be his biggest challenge, as the Black Panthers are returning to the national stage after many years.
Gift Raikhan (NEROCA)
Another experienced Indian coach who has been in the football scene for a long time. Raikhan will return with his Orange Army this season and will look to bring the title to Manipur. He has a knack for developing young Indian players and will continue to do so by adding the local Manipuri flavour.
Raikhan’s coaching journey started with now disbanded club Pune FC, where he was an assistant to Dutch coach Mike Snoei and later to Derrick Pereira. His first big stint was with NEROCA FC in their maiden I-league campaign and he did wonders with the team, as they finished second in the 2017-18 season. Following his success with NEROCA, he had stints with Aizawl FC and Gokulam Kerala, but both did not work out. Hence, he has returned to NEROCA where it all started.
David Robertson (Real Kashmir)
Scottish tactician David Robertson will return to action in the I-League with Real Kashmir. The experienced coach has been with the Snow Leopards since 2017 and has seen the ebbs and flows with the outfit from the Valley. Starting from Real Kashmir’s promotion from the Second Division League to the I-League to winning the IFA Shield last month, life has come a full circle for the Snow Leopards and also for Robertson.
The 52-year old tactician played for some of the top clubs in Scotland in his career, which include teams like Aberdeen and Rangers. He also had a stint with Leeds United and has represented Scotland three times. His coaching career started when he was appointed manager of a fourth tier outfit in Scotland named Elgin City. He then had stints with Scottish club Montrose followed by a spell in the US at Arizona United before joining Real Kashmir.
Curtis Fleming (RoundGlass Punjab)
Curtis Fleming will be the man to lead to RoundGlass Punjab in the I-League this season. The Briton comes with great club experience and has also worked under some big names as their assistant. Fleming is well known for his stint at Middlesborough as a player, but has also featured for top English clubs like Crystal Palace and Birmingham City.
His coaching career started when he became the head coach of Middlesbrough’s U-18 team and later had stints at Livingstone, Crystal Palace, Bolton Wanderers, Hartlepool United and QPR. Fleming has worked under the stewardship of managers like Tony Pulis, Dougie Freedman and Ian Holloway. Therefore, at RG Punjab, this will be his first big stint as head coach and he would like to start on a positive note, as they have built a very strong squad for the upcoming season.
Chencho Dorji (Sudeva FC)
Chencho Dorji is all set to become the first Bhutanese coach to lead a team in the I-League. The 41-year old has been with Sudeva for some time now and knows the philosophy that the club wants to follow. It will be interesting to see how Dorji marshalls this young Sudeva side against some of the big boys in the I-League this season. The Delhi-based outfit have also decided to field a team without any foreigners and it will only add to the challenge for their Bhutanese coach.
Dorji has had some coaching experience back at home. He was the head coach of the Bhutan U-16 side for over a decade. Then he joined Imphal City as their technical director before coming to Sudeva. It will be interesting to see how Dorji rises to the challenge with the new entrants.
L. Nandakumar Singh (TRAU)
Tiddim Road Athletic Union FC will return to the I-League this season with L.Nandakumar at the helm. The Manipuri tactician guided the Red Pythons from the second division to the I-League in 2019 and will be entrusted with the responsibility of leading them in the I-League this season.
Singh was the technical director of TRAU last season as they hired Cypriot head coach Dimitris Dimitriou. The team was performing well under Dimitriou but due to some rift between the club officials and the head coach he was relieved from his duties and later Singh took charge of the club as the caretaker coach. However this season Nandakumar Singh will return as head coach of the Manipuri outfit.