In its short span of just two seasons, the Hero Indian Super League has already given us innumerable stories. From hard-fought last-minute victories to dramatic turnarounds, ISL has every tailor-made stuff for football fans. Atletico de Kolkata won the first edition while Chennaiyin FC had won the second edition last year, defeating Zico’s FC Goa in the finals.
The third edition of the Indian Super League is currently on and has given us a lot of new excitement and frenzy. The matches are being contested at a better quality, stating that the older the league grows, the better it will become. The league, in just two years, have revived and reinvigorated a few slow and staggering careers already, for both domestic and international players.
Here, we take a look at a few players who thank the ISL for re-igniting their floundering careers.
#1 Leo Moura
Leo Moura is one of the most influential midfielders to have played in the ISL. The Brazilian box-to-box midfielder inspired and marshalled FC Goa brilliantly to the finals last season, being one of their most consistent and successful performers on the pitch. The player got the highest number of assists (8) in the league, also completing the most number of successful passes (825).
Leo Moura, at 36, had played his testimonial match for Flamengo, one of the four Brazilian clubs he represented in a celebrated career.
FC Goa’s coach, Brazilian superstar Zico, who had known Moura from his Brazilian days knew his abilities. The coach brought Moura to India and revived his career. Giving him responsibility and freedom on the pitch to express himself, the FC Goa coach gave Moura starts in the deep-lying playmaking roles. The move triggered positively and Leo never looked back.
For a player who had almost hanged his boots, being called up to join Santa Cruz, one of the Brazilian powerhouses at 37, is nothing short of a dream-come-true. Interestingly, Moura is also famous being one of the few players to have represented the ‘Big Four’ of Brazilian football, Botafogo, Vasco, Fluminense and Flamengo. Moura has also captained Flamengo for some time in his long career.
#2 Iain Hume
The Canadian is a superstar already on Indian shores but had a tumultuous period before joining the Kerala Blasters in the first edition of Indian Super League. The player, who we know has loads of talent and striking prowess in him, was plying his trade at clubs in the first and second division of the English League, most notably Leicester City.
In a faltering career, Hume joined League Two side Fleetwood Town to reunite with his captain at Preston North end, Graham Alexander. The striker was given the number 36 shirt, proving how low he stood in the pecking order in the striker’s list. In his eight appearances, the bald striker scored just once, against Lancashire rivals Morecambe to secure a 2-2 draw for the home team.
With his career going nowhere, the striker came to India, joining Kerala Blasters FC for the first season of ISL. Hume was the lynchpin of Kerala’s attack and their main player who took them to the League’s finals. In 16 appearances, the striker scored 5 goals, pulling a defence-heavy Kerala team to the finals single-handedly.
After a brilliant season, Hume returned to his first club in League Two, Tranmere Rovers. After 12 goalless games, the striker was released by the club which relegated to the Conference. Hume returned back to sign for defending champions Atletico De Kolkata for the second season and put the League on fire with his goal-scoring heroics.
The striker got on the scoresheet 13 times in 16 appearances, giving enough reasons to Antonio Lopez Habas to keep believing in him. The ATK striker has, by now, become the highest scorer in the League, crossing another player on this list this season.
The striker has played 43 times for Canada, scoring 6 goals. For a career which was going nowhere in the second tier of the English League, Hume must be thanking ISL for giving him another chance to rule opposition defenders and supporters’ hearts with his goal-scoring feats.
#3 Jeje Lalpekhlua
Jeje Lalpekhlua was born with a striker’s touch and was destined for big things ever since he broke onto the footballing scenario. Jeje was born in a football fanatic family in Mizoram. His father and uncle both played football and his father also represented Mizoram in the Santosh Trophy. Taking the baton over from him, Jeje debuted for Model Sporting Club, four months after his father retired.
Jeje impressed at the U-19 selection camp for Mizoram, getting selected for the qualifiers. Jeje broke into the U-19 Indian team and played just two games, scoring four goals. Sensing his potential, he was picked up in the U-23 squad, for which he played 17 games, scoring six goals. On the club front, Jeje was plying his trade for Pune FC and went on loan to the now-defunct Pailan Arrows in 2010. Jeje kept scoring goals on the run for his club, garnering attention from all corners of the country.
Jeje made his first National Team appearance in 2011, at the age of 21. Having showed a lot of promise in the youth ranks, the Indian football fraternity certainly had a new emerging star in its ranks.
Disappointingly, like so many other football careers, Jeje lost his way. On the club scenario, Jeje plied his trade for Pailan Arrows on loan till 2011, and had no other I-League club to play for till 2013 when Dempo came calling. Scoring just two goals in a season was not expected of Jeje, the striker and Mohun Bagan signed him for the next season to revive his career.
Jeje scored just once in 12 appearances and had been replaced by Robin Singh in the National team starting line-up and was used sparingly. Come ISL, and Jeje was signed by Chennaiyin FC. Playing as an impact striker from the bench in the starting phase, Jeje replaced Balwant Singh as the main man upfront. Since then, there’s no looking back for the striker. Finishing the campaign as the highest scoring Indian, over-scoring Sunil Chhetri and Robin Singh, got Jeje the much-needed reception.
If the first season was a fluke, Jeje proved his credentials in the second season. Forming a formidable partnership with Stiven Mendoza, Jeje scored six goals and made three other assists to take Chennaiyin to the title. Looking at his exploits in front of the goal, Jeje was signed by Mohun Bagan for the 2015-16 I-League season and is, again, one of the regular starters for the Blue Tigers.
#4 Borja Fernandez
Kolkata’s favourite midfielder has been one of the most consistent performers in the Indian Super League since its inception. Being the first signing for the Sourav Ganguly owned team, Borja is the main midfield enforcer for the men in white-and-red.
At 33, Borja is one of the most experienced players in the ATK team. Highly influential in their journey to the trophy in the first season, Borja is capable of winning balls off the feet and in the air equally well. Borja is also capable of finding an incisive pass in the final third, giving the much-needed freedom to attacking players to express themselves.
Borja started well, plying his trade for Real Madrid for four seasons in the La Liga. Having made 38 appearances for the Los Blancos, Borja moved on to ply his trade for other Spanish clubs like Mallorca, Valladolid and Getafe. In 2011-12, Borja had fallen off the pecking order at Getafe and signed for Deportivo La Coruna in the Spanish second division, Segunda. While his performances got him the back to Getafe, he was more of an impact player to replace tiring players than a regular starter.
Come 2014, Borja took the challenge of signing for Atletico De Kolkata, being the first player to be signed by the Bengal Tigers. Leading the team with brilliant displays in every match, Borja’s team deservingly marched its way to League glory. After another brilliant display in the second season which saw ATK reaching the semi-finals, Borja was signed by La Liga team Eibar to ensure their status in the Spanish top division.
The player started a lot of matches on his return to Spain and ensured Eibar’s status in the top league. For a talented player of his stature and quality, ISL can only be called a boon. The Spanish midfield maestro has returned to India for the third season of ISL and is already entertaining us with his powerful performances in the heart of ATK’s midfield.
#5 Stiven Mendoza
Arguably the best striker to have played in the ISL, John Stiven Mendoza had electrified the second edition of Indian Super League in unimaginative ways. The striker notched up 13 goals in 16 appearances, leading Chennaiyin FC all the way to the title. Explosive and skilful, Mendoza was one of the delights to watch last season and formed one of the most formidable partnerships ever seen in Indian football with Jeje Lalpekhlua.
Interestingly, there’s more to the story. Standing at just over 5’7’’, Stiven would not look like a striker from the world go. No real physical presence whatsoever, Mendoza started off his career at Envigado in 2010. After loan spells at America Cali and Cucuta Deportivo, Mendoza signed a two-year contract at Deportivo Cali, the club he supported on 18th July, 2013.
The player was released by the club on 01st July, 2014 and his career knew no next step. Chennaiyin FC came calling and after four months, Stiven Mendoza signed for the Marina Machans on 01st Nov, 2014. Playing a fringe role in the first season, Mendoza still scored four goals in just 9 appearances.
It was the second season, though, which brought the spotlight at him. With Elano, Rafael Augusto and Jeje, Stiven Mendoza started on a journey which changed his career. 16 goals, Hero of the League and a Golden Boot later, Mendoza went back to parent club Corinthians, from where he was loaned out to New York City FC, to play alongside footballing legends Frank Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo!
Playing under former Arsenal and France superstar Patrick Vieira has done a world of good to Mendoza, whose unparalleled goal-scoring heroics in a season is yet to be matched. From playing at Deportivo Cali to plying his trade at Corinthians and New York City FC, John Stiven Mendoza must thank his stars and the Indian Super League for the brilliant turnaround his career has seen.