As the season draws to an end, here's a look at the five controversies that rocked ISL 2020-21.
#5 Kerala Blasters and ATK Mohun Bagan engage in a transfer dispute
One of the most intriguing aspects of ISL this season was the numerous swap deals in the January transfer window. While all the transfers went hassle-free, Kerala Blasters took a bumpy road before getting their designated player onboard.
Nongdamba Naorem was supposed to make his way from Kerala Blasters to ATK Mohun Bagan in exchange for Subha Ghosh. But the Mariners' medical team later found that Naorem had an ACL tear. Consequently, ATK Mohun Bagan rejected Subha Ghosh's movement in AIFF's Centralised Registration System (CRS).
Kerala Blasters appealed to the AIFF's Player Status Committee and got a favorable verdict. However, the decision came in mid-February when Kerala Blasters only had two matches left in the competition.
#4 Chennaiyin FC accuse FC Goa's Edu Bedia of biting Deepak Tangri in an ISL match
In the second fixture between the two sides, Chennaiyin FC accused Edu Bedia of channeling his inner Luis Suarez and biting Deepak Tangri. The defensive midfielder even showed marks of Bedia's bites on his midriff, but the referee Crystal John didn't notice any.
Ultimately, the AIFF let Edu Bedia go as they couldn't find sufficient evidence to incriminate him.
#3 AIFF suspends Robbie Fowler and Hugo Boumous
Like every previous edition, the referees came under the scanner for all the wrong reasons in the 2020-21 ISL season as well. SC East Bengal coach Robbie Fowler wasn't happy with some decisions in his side's 1-1 draw against FC Goa.
The Liverpool legend went irate in the post-match press conference, saying that the referee had an 'anti-English or anti-East Bengal thing.' The AIFF Disciplinary Committee sanctioned a four-match ban and imposed a fine amounting to INR 5 lakh on Fowler.
Mumbai City FC's playmaker Hugo Boumous was also handed an additional two-match suspension for 'gross serious indisciplinary unsporting acts and misdemeanours' on the referee following his side's 3-3 draw with FC Goa.
#2 Mohun Bagan fans demand the removal of prefix ATK
This drama unfolded even before the 2020-21 ISL season started. The owners of ATK acquired 80% stakes of Mohun Bagan to form a newly-merged entity.
The ISL hyped it up by airing a promo that showed a father-and-son duo dipping ATK and Mohun Bagan jersey in the washing machine. The team's training jersey also had three stars embellished on their sleeve, signifying ATK's three ISL trophies. Regardless to say, the Mohun Bagan fans were livid with it.
The washing machine promo was dropped and the three stars vanished. The club posted a clarification later, saying that the sentiments of Mohun Bagan fans will be respected.
However, things took an ugly turn when the club donned a 2019-20 ATK's away jersey in the game against Chennaiyin FC. The Mohun Bagan fans conducted a rally from their club tent in Gostha Pal Sarani to CESC House in Dharmatala to express their displeasure.
#1 Stuart Baxter's insensitive comments get him the sack
Odisha FC remain the only team in the 2020-21 ISL season to not win a penalty. Their head coach Stuart Baxter wasn't happy with some of the referee's decisions in his side's 0-1 loss to Jamshedpur FC. He expressed his anger with a poor choice of words.
At the post-match presentation with Star Sports, Baxter said:
"You need decisions to go your way and they didn’t. I don’t know when we’re going to get a penalty. I think one of my players would have to rape someone or get raped himself if he was going to get a penalty."
Odisha FC were quick to react and sacked Baxter the following day. The 67-year-old later apologized and gave a clarification.
"It must be clear and simple that I distance myself from any sympathetic position on the gender based crimes and violence. I find that abhorrent. My comments, though wholly inappropriate and misplaced, are also out of context."
Baxter explained that he couldn't find the right words to express his dismay at not getting a penalty.
"I was searching for the words and I got it wrong. But people that know me, know that getting it wrong does not reflect any of my views as a father, grandfather, a citizen and a husband. There’s never been any sort of suspicion that I am not wholly against violence towards females. It would be cowardly, I think it is despicable and I have always made my views known."
The former Odisha FC gaffer admitted that the fact that people are doubting him has hurt him more than losing the job.
"This is not who I am, and anybody that knows, me knows who I am. When you lose a job, that’s a job. But what people think of you is important to me. The biggest pain I am feeling now is that I have not spoken in the way that reflects how I feel, and therefore people are questioning me. That hurts – more than losing my job."