With East Bengal and Mohun Bagan set to move into the ISL, there are one or two openings in the I-League…
If I-League is a movie, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan are the two biggest superstars who ruled the industry for years before moving on. They have been like the Khans of Bollywood and the M’s of Mollywood.
The Kolkata giants were, without doubt, two of the biggest clubs in India playing in the country’s top division every season and enjoying varying degrees of success.
This year, there were two twists in the tale just before the climax. Firstly, Indian Super League (ISL) club ATK joined hands with Mohun Bagan to form ATK Mohun Bagan and confirmed their participation in the ISL. Last week, Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, in another grand reveal, confirmed the entry of East Bengal as well. With two of the main leads climbing up the leagues’ ladder, where does all of the recent developments leave I-League and its other participants?
A few clubs, who have shown the desire to go all-out and be aggressive in their pursuit of the title in the last few years, are set to pounce. The 2020-21 season of I-League will not have the ‘big two’ involved but that situation paves way for the likes of Gokulam Kerala and Chennai City to start a journey that ensures their dominance in the years to come.
In a league that was dominated by East Bengal and Mohun Bagan on and off the field, it could be argued that the rest of the teams can now start on a clean slate. However, the likes of Gokulam Kerala, Chennai City and Real Kashmir have given their supporters the promise that they can be the sure-fire favourites when they need to be.
Gokulam Kerala look to be the favourite and the first team likely to take the spotlight. The Gokulam group-owned club has invested heavily in their youth, women’s and senior men’s team and such involvement is indicative of the club’s commitment to Indian football.
The Malabarians are here to stay and could be talked about much more often in the coming years. They already have plans to come up with academies across Kerala which were only put on hold by the Coronavirus pandemic. The Kozhikode-based club, who have always maintained that they wish to challenge for the title since their entry into the league, was one win away from the second spot last season.
Their previous league finishes (seventh and ninth) are underwhelming but the Durand Cup champions are sure to bounce back and make a claim for the I-League trophy this season.
In Chennai City’s case, Rohit Ramesh and his team who run the club have mastered the art of scouting, transfers and making a profit from player sales. They have also managed to remain competitive on the field thanks to the able leadership of head coach Akbar Nawas. Only this time last year, they were I-League champions.
Although they failed to defend their title last season, the 2020-21 season could be the beginning of another chapter.
Champions Bagan finished with 39 points from 16 games last season. East Bengal were second with 23 points. Only two points separated the teams from the third to the seventh spot. Even the likes of Real Kashmir will fancy their chances.
Can Gokulam Kerala and Chennai City or another club make full use of this opportunity to stake their claim to the I-League thrown?