The ISL has taken massive strides in overturning the footballing fortunes in the country. The quality of the game and potential of the players are two of the many aspects that have improved after the league's introduction.
An action-packed ISL also meant the rise of aggressive rivalries between clubs and fan groups, both on and off the pitch.
Even today, the final of the 2015 edition, between FC Goa and Chennaiyin FC is fresh in the minds of people for all the wrong reasons. While the Marina Machans pipped the Gaurs to lift the title, a brawl off the field led to Elano Blumer's arrest by the police.
However, many have missed the positives whilst looking at the darker phases. The fierce competition and thirst for victory have been kept aside at times to produce moments worthy of praise.
In this piece, we will look at four such incidents that have enhanced the level of sportsmanship and the spirit of the game.
#4 Sunil Chhetri scores a 'Panenka'; apologises to Pune City FC goalkeeper Vishal Kaith
Bengaluru FC made their ISL debut in the 2017/18 season under Albert Roca. It was a smooth journey for the Blues. They booked their place in the playoffs by virtue of finishing at the top of the league standings.
However, in the first-leg of the semi-final, Pune City FC held the 2018-19 champions to a goalless draw. The reverse fixture, at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, ended in favour of the hosts after Sunil Chhetri conjured a magnificent hat-trick. Though the visitors scored a consolation through Jonatan Luca, the Indian skipper's strikes ensured BFC eased into the finals.
While the biggest headline of the day was Bengaluru's maiden ISL final, Chhetri's act after scoring a penalty won many hearts. Sarthak Golui's push from behind had earned the India international a penalty which he converted by pulling out the 'panenka'.
The 'panenka' is a technique whereby the player chips the ball towards the centre of the goal, deceiving the keeper with the lack of pace.
Post the spot-kick, the Indian captain apologetically put up his hand towards custodian Vishal Kaith. The goal-scorer showed respect to the keeper and instantly apologised. In the process, he displayed an exemplary bit of sportsmanship.
Not always do we see a striker come up with such a reply to a goalkeeper. The image was undoubtedly a depiction of why Chhetri is hailed as the legend of Indian football.
Bengaluru FC went on to face Chennaiyin FC in the summit clash a few days later but fell agonizingly short at the final hurdle.
#3 CK Vineeth refrains from wild celebrations after scoring against Kerala Blasters
CK Vineeth has shared a long and well-known bond with his local team Kerala Blasters in the ISL. The striker joined the Kochi-based outfit on loan from Bengaluru FC in 2015 and went on to feature in 44 games for the Blasters. He was then loaned out to Chennaiyin FC in January 2019.
Though Vineeth arrived at the club as a fan-favourite, he endured enormous backlash from the fans after a string of poor results in the fifth season. Additionally, his trip to Kochi as a Chennaiyin player in February 2019 set off a round of conflicts off the field.
Inevitably, the 31-year-old's visit to his 'home ground' with Jamshedpur FC in the 2019-20 season had attracted a lot of attention.
As things turned out, Vineeth came off the bench to double the visitors' lead in the 72nd minute of the game. But those who were expecting a 'revenge celebration' from the forward were left disappointed.
Not only did he not overreact, he also folded his hands after finding the back of a very familiar net. Vineeth's mature and sensible act attracted a lot of praise from pundits and it was a just thing done by a player who had once been the Blasters' all-time top scorer.
#2 Kerala Blasters fans chant TP Rehenesh's name after a massive defeat against Chennaiyin FC
While Kerala Blasters' fans are known for their never-ending support, the faithful haven't always enjoyed pleasant memories. Numerous players have been targeted on online platforms after poor results on the field in the previous seasons.
As a result, any stranger to the club would consider the keeper to be the fans' most-hated person after a 6-3 defeat at home. But, local boy TP Rehenesh felt the supporters' love even on one of his worst days at work.
On 1st February 2020, the Blasters were hosting Chennaiyin FC in a must-win fixture. After a silent start to the game, the visitors took the lead in the 39th minute and added two more before half-time. Things didn't change much after the break as the Marina Machans managed to make the net bulge incessantly, in reply to Bartholomew Ogbeche's hat-trick.
Unsurprisingly, Rehenesh found it difficult to hide his emotions and broke down soon after the final whistle. A few of his teammates and his opposite number Karanjit Singh came in support of the 27-year-old. More wonderfully though, an entire stand at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium echoed similar sentiments.
The Manjappada stand began chanting 'TP Rehenesh', in support of the keeper after the result. The fan group which was once infamous for its relation with players had produced one of the best moments in the stadium.
They were quick to not blame the goalkeeper alone for the defeat and realized the need to stand up for the players when needed.
#1 Nerijus Valskis comforts an injured Roy Krishna in the 2020 ISL final
After a dismal start to the season, Chennaiyin FC stormed their way into the finals, registering one of the best comebacks in ISL history. ATK, meanwhile, had cemented a place in the top four and were considered favourites for the final.
Both clubs had two spearheads leading their respective attacks - Roy Krishna and Nerijus Valskis. The pair was also closely competing for the Golden Boot. Before the final, Krishna topped the chart with 15 goals while Valskis stood a goal behind.
However, that competition took a turn for the worse when Krishna was force to hobble off the field after suffering a hamstring injury in the first half. The striker, who seemed visibly shattered, was paid a comforting visit by Valskis.
The Lithuanian forward, despite having a slightly easier route to the Golden Boot, courtesy the Fijian's injury, valued sportsmanship over individual achievement.
Eventually, Valskis scored in the 69th minute to bag the Golden Boot award. Krishna too didn't leave empty-handed as ATK won the ISL title with a a brace by Javi Hernandez proving the difference.