The Indian Super League had its fair share of criticisms, but its evolution has surprised the naysayers and watchdogs of Indian football.
When the ISL started in 2014, clubs were allowed to register as many as 11 international players. In its fifth season, the number has been significantly brought down to seven, out of which five can take the field at a given time.
The shift in focus to nurture more home-grown players has certainly opened the doors for more Indian players to shine in the spotlight.
In a short span of four years, the League has seen many young Indian players rise to prominence and it has been a boon for both clubs and the Indian national team.
The focus on Indian players is slowing paying dividends with the likes of Anirudh Thapa (Chennaiyin FC), Ashique Kuruniyan (Pune City FC), Vinit Rai (Delhi Dynamos), Lallianzuala Chhangte (Delhi Dynamos), Sarthuk Gholui (Pune City FC) all being summoned to the national team after their strong showing in the Indian Super League.
There has been this criticism that foreign players are hurting the prospects of local players. Nevertheless, there can be no denying the fact that foreign players have played a big part in drawing fans to the stadiums, and have helped turn the Indian Super League into a high-profile tournament.
While fans obviously remember the likes of Elano Blumer, Stiven Mendoza, Florent Malouda and Iain Hume plying their trade in the ISL, there were few others that flew under the radar.
Let’s have a look at them.
#1 Jaime Gavilan
The Spaniard has amassed more than 200 games in the LaLiga over the course of 12 seasons with Getafe, Valencia, and Levante.
After a brief stint in Greece, the midfielder moved to the Indian Super League – first with ATK, then with Chennaiyin FC.
Gavilan has represented Spain at various age group levels and was also a member of the 2003 U-20 World Cup squad that lost to Brazil in the final.
Blessed with exceptional technical quality, positional sense and passing ability, the left-footed Spaniard can play in a deeper role in midfield as well as in a more advanced position.
The 33-year-old currently plays for AD Alcorcón in the Spanish second division. It is safe to say that his qualities as a player have been criminally overlooked and he should have definitely returned for the fifth edition of the ISL.
#2 Hans Mulder
The Dutch-Spanish midfielder was the heartbeat of the Delhi Dynamos team- driving attacks, tracking back, putting in tackles, winning duels, pressing opponents, setting up the strikers and scoring crucial goals.
With a passing accuracy of 80.69%, 98 tackles and 65 interceptions to his name, Mulder has been undoubtedly one of the standout midfielders in the Indian Super League.
After two seasons with Delhi Dynamos FC, Mulder joined Chennaiyin FC for the third edition. The 31- year old currently plays for RKC Waalwijk in the Dutch second division.
There is no doubt the Spaniard's presence would have made the league ‘richer’.
#3 Gustavo Marmentini dos Santos
The Brazilian wing wizard took the ISL by storm. His magical left-foot, pace, and brilliant individual skills gave the defenders a nightmare, getting past them like a knife through butter.
The former Delhi Dynamos player now plays for Alashkert in the Armenian Premier League on loan from Atlético Paranaense B.
After his stint in India, the Brazilian struggled for first-team opportunities in Brazil.
Gustavo remains a fan favourite and avid enthusiasts would love to see him back.
#4 Richard Gadze
The Ghanaian striker has been one of the finds of the Indian Super League.
With nine goals and six assists to his name, the young striker quickly cemented his spot as a firm fan-favourite amongst the Delhi faithful. His physicality, intelligent dynamic movement on and off the ball and high work-rate made it tough for opposing defences.
Following his stint in ISL, Gadze moved to Zira FK in Azerbaijan Premier League. He currently plays for Romanian side FC Voluntari.
It's hard to imagine, why clubs haven't considered him as an option.