Apart from Sunil Chhetri, the ISL have once again failed to see consistent goalscoring from Indian strikers.
At the I-league launch this season, Indian national team head coach Igor Stimac had blasted the footballing system in the national leagues with a cruel but logical rebuttal on the question of the Blue Tigers’ poor performance in front of goal.
He had said, “Can you mention to me one player with an Indian passport playing as a striker and scoring goals apart from Sunil (Chhetri)? Why do you expect us to score goals in international football when none of the Indian passport holders are playing as strikers and scoring goals domestically? The good thing is we are creating chances, we are not holding back and playing without fear.”
Has the message seeped through to the clubs? It hasn’t, at least for now. The Indian Super League, India’s top tier, had already started when Stimac made that remark. The remark produced no change. There was a deeper meaning to the message as well.
Whenever the No. 9 for a team (foreigner, for all sides) has been injured or has lost form, clubs have struggled to convert chances to goals. For instance, at FC Goa, Manvir Singh has started four games this season, but his two goals have come from the bench. At Bengaluru, they have a talisman in Chhetri, who more than makes up for the absence of goals from Manuel Onwu.
Apart from this, only Jobby Justin has a goal for ATK in a losing cause against FC Goa. In the next game, he came off the bench again only to provide an assist. Antonio Lopez Habas knows he can bring him on, but both Roy Krishna and David Williams have rarely put a foot wrong up top.
Apart from these three, who are on the top of the table, no club has an Indian striker to bank upon. Jeje Lalpekhlua is yet to make his comeback and Sumeet Passi hasn’t been prolific. Thus, after the injury to Sergio Castel, Jamshedpur FC had to rope in David Grande from the market. They had options like Farukh Chaudhary (who’s excelled in the second striker’s role this season) and CK Vineeth, but Antonio Iriondo had other ideas.
In a game between Odisha FC and Kerala Blasters, both Aridane Santana and Raphael Messi Bouli collided in the 23rd minute and had to be substituted by their respective coaches. Bartholomew Ogbeche, Kerala’s first-choice No. 9 and captain was on the sidelines due to injury, but had to come on in the 77th minute to try and affect the game. It ended goalless. Daniel Lalhlimpuia had come on for Santana, but did not have much to offer.
At Hyderabad FC, Robin Singh is a forward on whom a lot of people still place their bets. He had scored a crucial goal against Bengaluru FC in a 1-1 draw, but given the number of starts he has got, he doesn’t have much to show on his report card.
It is safe to say that ISL clubs who do not have good Indian strikers in reserve have struggled this season. On the face of it, their first-choice strikers’ inability to score has crippled them and they don’t have enough foreign options to fall back upon. In such a case, the clubs should have had an Indian option, ideally, which Chennaiyin will on the return of Lalpekhlua.
Bengaluru FC has continued to be one of the leading teams because of the heroics of Chhetri. Manvir Singh has contributed whenever called upon and so has Justin in the limited opportunities he has had. ISL clubs should scrounge the market for Indian strikers, as it will help the national team as well.