Elite players from yesteryear kick-started a new era for Indian football with their arrival.
The early few years of the Indian Super League (ISL) witnessed the arrival of a number of elite players of yesteryear. They were brought in with the aim to boost the popularity of the newly-formed league and grab the attention of football enthusiasts.
Many fans of the sport in India had grown up watching these players, treated a few of them as idols and even stayed up at unconventional hours to see them conjure magic with the ball at their feet. The notion of these superstars plying their trade in India was simply unfathomable. Hence, when they took to the field, now wearing the jersey of the various Indian clubs, thousands flocked to the stadiums to catch a glimpse of their heroes.
So, who were these famous footballing personalities? Let’s look at some of them:
10. Elano Blumer
Elano Blumer was Chennaiyin FC’s marquee signing in the first edition of the ISL. The former Manchester City man lived up to his reputation, doing a splendid job in both the years he spent at the club.
The Brazilian finished as top scorer in 2014 with eight goals under his belt. In addition, he produced a tally of four goals and four assists in 2015, when he acted as an integral figure in Chennai’s first title triumph. On the back of those remarkable exploits, Elano will always be remembered fondly by the Marina Machans.
9. Helder Postiga
Back in 2015, the Portuguese striker was roped in by then Atletico de Kolkata to replace Luis Garcia as their marquee player. Postiga hit the ground running by scoring a brace against Chennaiyin FC on his debut, but unfortunately picked up a hamstring injury and played no further part in that campaign.
Following a short stint with Portuguese outfit Rio Ave, he returned to Kolkata ahead of the third season of the ISL. This time, he made 11 appearances scoring two goals and providing three assists, as he led the side to their second title win before eventually hanging up his boots.
Lucio has donned the jersey of prominent European clubs such as Bayern Munich, Inter Milan and Juventus during his playing career. Hence, he was a massive addition to the league when FC Goa roped him in as their marquee player ahead of the 2015 season of the ISL.
He spent two years playing for the Gaurs, making 19 appearances, with completely contrasting results in each campaign. Whilst he played a key role in Goa’s run to the final in his debut term, the Brazilian couldn’t prevent the side from finishing bottom of the table in the subsequent one.
7. David Trezeguet
David Trezeguet is a well-known striker, who holds an important place in the history of both Juventus and the French national team. He was a part of the France squad that lifted the World Cup in 1998 and and had scored the goal that helped Les Bleus clinch Euro 2000.
Trezeguet represented FC Pune City in 2014 and scored two goals in eight matches for the Stallions, before announcing his retirement in January 2015.
6. Dimitar Berbatov
Dimitar Berbatov rose to prominence playing for Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur during his time in England. The elegant Bulgarian forward teamed up with former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen at Kerala Blasters in the 2017-18 season of the ISL.
However, the record seven-time Bulgarian Footballer of the Year didn’t enjoy a fruitful campaign in India, as he managed to score only one goal in nine matches for the Blasters. Moreover, he didn’t see eye-to-eye with David James, who was brought in midway through that particular season to replace Meulensteen at the helm.
5. Florent Malouda
Florent Malouda played for the likes of Lyon and Chelsea among others, bagging four consecutive Ligue 1 titles with the former and winning the Champions League with the latter. Malouda signed for Delhi Dynamos in the second season of the ISL, becoming an important player for them in his two-year stint with the club.
Unlike many others on this list, he was a very influential figure on the field and put in some excellent displays that helped Delhi make it to the semis in both the years he spent there. Malouda amassed three goals and 13 assists in 32 games, which acts as a reminder of the terrific quality he possessed.
4. Alessandro Del Piero
The Italy and Juventus legend graced Indian football fans with his presence in the first season of the Indian Super League. He was brought in as the marquee signing by then Delhi Dynamos.
His performances were quite unspectacular to be fair, as the attacker played 10 games but only had one goal to show for his efforts. Del Piero’s time in India ultimately ended in disappointment as Delhi finished in fifth place, narrowly missing out on a spot in the playoffs. A year later, he announced his retirement from the game.
3. Diego Forlan
Diego Forlan is a world-renowned player and holds legendary status in Uruguay. The first player to attain 100 caps for his country, the forward was a recipient of the Golden Ball at the 2010 FIFA World Cup and also finished joint top-scorer at the same tournament.
The former Manchester United man signed for Mumbai City in the third edition of the Indian Super League. He found the back of the net on five occasions across 12 games, helping them qualify for the playoffs for the first time, by finishing atop the table during the league stage.
2. Robert Pires
Known for being an important member of Arsenal’s “Invincibles” side in 2003-04, Robert Pires came out of retirement to join FC Goa in the inaugural season of the ISL. The former World Cup winner joined Goa as their marquee player and played eight times in his solitary season in India.
His performances though weren’t the most eye-catching as he only managed to score once for the Gaurs. Nevertheless, his wealth of experience and knowledge was massively beneficial for the local players in the squad.
1. Roberto Carlos
There won’t be any ardent follower of the beautiful game that hasn’t heard the name of Roberto Carlos. The legendary Brazilian full-back spent 11 years at Real Madrid, winning four LaLiga titles and three UEFA Champions League trophies. A World Cup winner and two-time Copa America champion, it is safe to say that Carlos is one of the biggest names out there in world football. Hence, his arrival on Indian shores in 2015 caused massive excitement for fans across the country.
He joined the erstwhile Delhi Dynamos in 2015, replacing Alessandro Del Piero as the marquee signing of the franchise. Carlos was brought in as a player/coach and had quite a successful season as he led the side to the semi-finals. The veteran played only three games for Delhi, but couldn’t make much of an impact on the playing front due to his lack of fitness.
Honourable Mentions: Nicolas Anelka, Freddie Ljungberg, Adrian Mutu, Tim Cahill, Luis Garcia, Asamoah Gyan.