ISL 2016: The meanest tacklers this season

Borja Fernandez vying for the ball (Picture Courtesy ISL)
Borja Fernandez vying for the ball (Picture Courtesy ISL)

“Manchester United defending a corner. Chelsea winger Joe Cole is standing over the ball. In front of the Stretford End, Tim Howard is arranging the defensive shape. Gary Neville is marking Lampard, Ferdinand is covering Drogba, and Cole delivers a good cross. Howard comes off his line, collects the ball and lays it on for a running Ryan Giggs just beyond the half-line.

Giggs is on the run. Giggs beats Essien and passes it to Ruud van Nistelrooy. The Dutch striker has been in red-hot form for a while now and the United striker is running through on goal. Nistelrooy vs Makelele and ohhh! It’s a crunching challenge. Makelele makes a clean interception and wins the ball with a majestic challenge.”

Even if you’ve seen the same story on any other hemisphere of football, you will not question the importance of players like Claude Makelele. Makelele was not a defender but did a lot of dirty work on the pitch for Chelsea. Leading them majestically to the Premier League under Jose Mourinho, the Frenchman, along with John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho was regarded as one of the hardest tacklers in the game.

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Coming to Indian shores, the Hero Indian Super League has raised its levels this season, with some very fine attacking and defensive displays on the pitch. While a lot has been written about the attacking side of things, a little more input into the defensive aspect has been found wanting. Here, we take a look at the five hardest tacklers in the Indian Super League (irrespective of their positions on the field)

#1 Borja Fernandez

If there’s ever a list of impact and not just numbers, it is almost impossible to keep this ‘gentle’man out. Known for his great behavior against opponents off the pitch, Borja is one of the hardest tackling men in the Indian footballing circuit currently. The Spanish midfielder has plied his trade for Atletico de Kolkata from season one and has grown into one of their key players.

The former Real Madrid and Getafe player was the first player to be signed by the Hero Indian Super League and such has been his influence on the pitch, that he’s always regarded highly by the opposition. Standing at just over 6’1”, the well-built midfielder is as good in the air as he is on the pitch. Having made 40 appearances overall, the midfielder has committed 82 fouls, earning 10 yellow cards and one red.

This might speak a lot about his indiscipline, but there’s no doubt about his effectiveness in breaking opposition play. The midfielder has played every minute of his team’s campaign this season and has made a whopping 23 crunching tackles in just nine games. With 12 of them being interceptions, it shows the effectiveness of the player on the pitch.

With his defensive duties, Borja also gives a lot of attacking spine to his team. Playing as a deep-lying playmaker, the 35-year-old is a tireless runner and has been one of the best players in the ISL till date. With 12 interceptions, Borja has also won 8 aerial duels this season, which makes him indispensable for his side.

#2 Cedric Hengbart

Cedric Hengbart going for a high ball (Picture Courtesy ISL)
Cedric Hengbart going for a high ball (Picture Courtesy ISL)

Hengbart looks like the older version of WWE Superstar Kane on the football pitch. Tall and well-built, the French defender has long hair and turns red whenever he plays, making him similar to the masked assassin.

Ask opposition strikers, and they’ll tell you a similar story. The player who started his ISL journey with Kerala Blasters in Season 1 is back with the South Indian team for the third season after plying his trade with NorthEast United in the second season.

A highly adaptable defender, Hengbart’s positioning and game-reading make him a handful against any opposition. In ISL 2014, Hengbart had played 13 matches for the Blasters, registering 101 clearances and 49 tackles! That’s another defending high for the tall centre-back. Forming another formidable partnership with Aaron Hughes and Sandesh Jhingan, the defender is apt with the ball at his feet but comes into his own defending one-on-one situations.

Probably the most confident tackler in this list, Hengbart has made 22 tackles in 10 appearances this season. The 35-year-old might not have made the most tackles, but he has made some hard ones. Also, his game intelligence has helped him win 22 aerial duels and make 19 interceptions, one of the highest in the league.

Having conceded 27 goals last season, the Kerala Blasters looked to the experience and strength of the French defender and the player has responded majestically. Leading the side out of danger every now and then, the right-footed defender has also cleaned up their defensive woes, conceding only 8 in 10 ISL games this season.

#3 Mohamed Sissoko

Momo Sissoko tackle wins the ball clean (Picture Courtesy ISL)
Momo Sissoko tackle wins the ball clean (Picture Courtesy ISL)

Having won the UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup and La Liga with Valencia and the FA Cup with Liverpool and Ligue 1 with PSG, Mohamed Sissoko came to Indian shores to try new avenues in world football. FC Pune City signed him only after Eidur Gudjohnson was deemed unfit, and the midfielder has taken the league by storm.

Having played 9 out of the 10 matches this season, the well-built midfielder has made 42 tackles, one of the highest in the league. The deep-lying orchestrator has also scored a goal while committing 15 fouls and earning two yellow cards. The former Juventus player has an eye for the forward pass too, making it difficult for opposition midfielders to sit back and let him operate.

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Besides the 42 toe-crushing challenges which have instilled fear amongst opposition strikers and midfielders alike, Sissoko has also won 19 aerial duels and has made 12 interceptions, showing his worth for the Antonio Habas’ side every time he’s on the field. If Pune City FC reach the knockout stages of the league, they would have this man to thank for his services in the middle of the park.

#4 Lucian Goian

Lucian Goian going through Alfaro (Picture Courtesy ISL)
Lucian Goian going through Alfaro (Picture Courtesy ISL)

If Mumbai City FC are second on the league table currently, it is due to their defensive stability this term. Having played all 11 games for the Alexandre Guimaraes, the Romanian defender has been nothing short of exemplary, launching powerful tackles every time the team needs. At 33, Goian is at one of the best ages for a defender. With loads of experience and understanding of strengths and strategies, Goian has been a leader for the Mumbai side.

The player has missed just 26 minutes of his team’s game time this season, proving the importance the coach has placed on him. Goian has committed 16 fouls in the league but has earned just a solitary yellow card, which shows how perfect his tackles and interceptions are.

The former FC Dinamo Bucaresti player has loads of Asian footballing experience, having played in the Chinese League. The defender has made 43 strong challenges on the pitch, causing minor injuries to a few players. His clean card deck shows his intentions are always entitled on winning the ball back for his team, which is a great sign for a defender.

Having terrorized oppositions strikers already with 43 tackles, Goian has also won 14 aerial duels and has made 17 interceptions in the process. If this powerful Romanian player keeps performing like he has been, Mumbai City FC should reach the knockout stages of the league with ease.

#5 Raphael Augusto

Raphael Augusto tries to get the ball off Mohammed Rafique (Picture Courtesy ISL)
Raphael Augusto tries to get the ball off Mohammed Rafique (Picture Courtesy ISL)

Probably the most under-rated and hard-working player in the Chennaiyin FC side, Raphael Augusto has always delivered for his team, no matter what. The Brazilian is a powerhouse of energy and burns a lot of grass every match he plays in. Helping Legia Warsaw win the Polish League in 2013-14, the midfielder joined the defending champions last season, inspiring them to the title with brilliant displays on the pitch.

Augusto is everything on the pitch for the Super Machans. Being the most powerful player on the pitch with Bernard Mendy, the player gives his heart and soul into every tackle he makes. In 22 appearances since last season, the midfield enforcer has committed 34 fouls, but has only earned three yellow cards, which speaks volumes about his timing of challenges.

Raphael has made 47 challenges on the pitch this season, more than any other player while playing at a more advanced position than any other player on this list. It only clarifies the fact that the player works very hard to break opposition play in their half and create chances for his teammates. Industrious and highly skilled, Augusto’s ability to function in tight spaces is an attribute which helps him win over oppositions in the middle of the pitch.

With just 2 aerial duels won and 13 interceptions this season, it is a clear case of a player being more capable on his feet than in the air. What Augusto lacks in the air, he makes up for on the ground. Known for his eye for openings, Augusto has already assisted four goals and scored one. With these stats, Augusto is unquestionably one of the most influential players in the ISL and has one of the meanest tackles in the league.

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Edited by Staff Editor