The Indian Super League (ISL) is widely considered to have changed the face of Indian football after its inception in 2014.
Now, three years down the line, the ISL is set to grow with new teams and newer stipulations. What used to be a three-month-long tourney will now stand alongside proper football leagues of the world as the tournament duration is set to be extended to five months.
As such, there will be lesser marquee signings – big name players, who are probably spent, at the fag end of their careers – in the ISL this season. Players like David Trezeguet and Alessandro Del Piero, who did nothing more than being lethargic passengers on the pitch and fan magnets off it, will be things of the past.
That is if the ISL truly intends to follow its stated blueprint and move Indian football forward.
Liverpool fans cheering Atletico de Kolkata on because of Luis Garcia or Manchester United fans taking Mumbai City’s side because of Diego Forlan will soon be history, although that connection between the ISL and big English clubs is a reason why the cash-rich league has been so popular among Indian fans at first place.
Without further ado, we look at how former Manchester United and Liverpool stars fared in the past three seasons of the ISL, rating them subjectively and objectively on a scale of one to five.
Eric Djemba-Djemba – 2.5/5
Cameroonian midfielder Eric Djemba-Djemba was an unknown commodity when he was signed by Manchester United in 2003. An FA Cup and Community Shield winner with the Red Devils, he struggled to feature prominently for United and was sold off after one and a half years at the club.
Djemba-Djemba signed for Chennaiyin FC in the first season of the ISL. Known for his aggressive style, he played nine games for the club. His was an uninspiring stint in Indian climes. He currently plays for Swiss fifth division club FC Vallorbe-Ballaigues.
Jermaine Pennant – 2.5/5
English winger Jermaine Pennant spent two and a half years at Liverpool. He won a Community Shield during his time at Merseyside and also helped the Reds win the 2007 Champions League.
Pennant joined ISL in the inaugural season when he signed for FC Pune CIty. He made seven appearances for the club before returning to England. He currently plays for Bury in League One. The well-travelled Pennant couldn't be said to have made the most of his Indian sojourn.
Mohamed Sissoko – 3/5
Defensive midfielder Mohamed Sissoko had a two-and-half year stint at Liverpool. During his time there, he won the FA Cup as well as the Community Shield and the UEFA Super Cup. He has also won league titles in Spain and France along with a UEFA Cup he won with Valencia.
Sissoko arrived in India to play for Pune City as their marquee player last year. He played a total of 13 matches in the ISL, scoring two goals and was a strong physical presence in their midfield. However, the Malian couldn't inspire the Orange Purples to a playoff place in ISL-3.
Nicolas Anelka – 3/5
Journeyman Nicholas Anelka has played for several clubs across Europe, including a brief stint on loan at Liverpool in 2002. A two-time Premier League winner with Arsenal and Chelsea, he has also won 3 FA Cups and a Champions League with Real Madrid.
Anelka joined Mumbai City in 2014 and scored 2 goals in his first season. He returned for the second season of the ISL as the player-manager of Mumbai CIty. The now retired Frenchman played 13 matches in the ISL. His time in Mumbai was largely forgettable, reflected in his average rating.
Mikael Silvestre – 3/5
Former French defender Mikael Silvestre spent a staggering nine years at Manchester United, where we won five Premier League titles, one FA Cup, one League Cup and one Champions League. He arrived in India with a lot of experience and signed for Chennaiyin FC in the inaugural season.
He played a total of 14 matches in the ISL and retired from football after the first season. With Chennaiyin finishing top of the league in the first ISL season, Silvestre's stint in India could be said to have gone along expected lines.
Josemi – 3.5/5
Former Spanish defender Josemi was Rafael Benitez’s first signing as Liverpool manager in 2004. He won the Champions League in his debut season at Merseyside. He spent one and a half seasons with the Reds, during which he also won the UEFA Super Cup.
Josemi joined Atletico de Kolkata in the first season of the ISL. The Spaniard formed a strong defensive pairing with Arnab Mondal, playing every match and helping the team win the inaugural season of the ISL. He captained the team in the final against Kerala Blasters, standing in for compatriot and former Reds teammate Garcia.
Josemi renewed his contract for a second season but injury cut short his campaign and he was subsequently released. He played 20 matches for Atletico before deciding to hang his boots last year.
David James – 3.5/5
Former England goalkeeper David James played for a lot of clubs in England but his longest stint was at Liverpool from 1992 to 1999. The fourth highest Premier League appearance maker of all time, James won the League Cup at Liverpool and later went on to add the FA Cup with Portsmouth.
James was signed by the Sachin Tendulkar-owned Kerala Blasters in the first season of the ISL as their marquee signing. He served as a player-manager and helped the team finish runners-up in the inaugural season.
He played 12 times for the Blasters and retired after the season. James’ transformation of the Kerala side after a poor start was commendable.
John Arne Riise – 3.5/5
Liverpool fan favourite John Arne Riise last played for Chennaiyin FC as a marquee signing for a brief period after coming out of retirement in 2016. A Champions League winner with the Reds, Riise first made his foray into Indian football in the second season of the ISL in 2015.
Signing with Delhi Dynamos, the retired Norwegian played in both defence as well as midfield.
In total, Riise made 25 appearances in the ISL, 15 of which came for Delhi Dynamos and 10 for Chennaiyin FC. He scored two goals during his time in India. Apart from spending seven years in Merseyside, where he has also won the FA Cup and the League Cup, Riise has played for Monaco, Roma and Fulham. He is the most capped player of Norway.
Diego Forlan – 4/5
The former Manchester United striker needs no introduction. Forlan is the recipient of the Golden Ball at the 2010 World Cup, where he was the joint top scorer. The Uruguayan’s time in Manchester was underwhelming and he is mostly remembered for his brace against rivals Liverpool.
Forlan moved to Mumbai City FC as a marquee player in the last season of the ISL. He lit the stage on fire, scoring five goals and providing three assists in 12 appearances. Forlan has also played for the likes of Villarreal and Inter Milan. The Uruguayan's impact in the ISL in such a short time came as no surprise given his pedigree.
Luis Garcia – 4.5/5
Former Liverpool midfielder Luis Garcia is a popular figure at Merseyside. The Spaniard was a key figure in the Reds’ successful campaign in the Champions League and famously scored the ‘ghost goal’ in the semi-final against Chelsea. He also won the FA Cup in his three years with the club.
Garcia came out of retirement to join Atletico de Kolkata as their marquee player back in season 1. He scored two goals and provided two assists en route helping the team become the first ever ISL Champions. He played a total of 13 matches and was adjudged the Most Exciting Player of that season. Garcia clearly is the standout of the bunch.