Indian football’s story without its foreign players would be incomplete. From Majid Bishkar to Jose Barreto to Iain Hume in the more recent days, several overseas stars have carved a coveted place for themselves in India.
A few like Barreto have assimilated into ecosystem to such an extent, that they continue to be involved with Indian football even years after their playing days ended.
With the Indian Super League taking centrestage and elevating the technical level of the game in India, Brazilian and African players have made way for Spanish stars. Of the the total foreigners in the league ahead of the 2020-’21 campaign, 29% hail from Spain. Many former Premier League stars have also found their way into the teams this season as the ISL clubs search for younger foreign recruits.
Due to the new rule that makes it mandatory for teams to have a player from an AFC affiliated nation, Australia has also emerged as a popular destination for ISL teams to shop for top foreign stars.
As the 2020-’21 ISL season nears, here’s a look at the ten foreign players to watch out for this season:
1. Roy Krishna (Striker – ATK Mohun Bagan)
Krishna needs little introduction to the Indian football faithful after the season he had for ATK last year where he scored 15 goals and assisted six times to help his team win their third ISL crown. Stepping out for ATK Mohun Bagan this season, all eyes will be on the Fijian to replicate his heroics and get the merger off to a flying start.
With his strike partner David Williams also in the team, Krishna will be expected to build on his partnership with the Australian. With defences likely to put extra emphasis on Krishna, the Fijian will have to up his game if he has to match or better his tally from last season.
A scorer of over 100 goals in the A-League, Krishna has also netted 29 international goals in 40 games for Fiji and is likely to have little problem in dealing with expectations.
2. Danny Fox (Defender – SC East Bengal)
After an accomplished career in the United Kingdom, Danny Fox has embarked on his first foreign stint at SC East Bengal where he will be expected to lead the defence for Robbie Fowler.
Signed from Wigan Athletic, Fox spent the majority of his career playing in the Championship, the second tier of English football, with his most successful spells coming at Nottingham Forest and Burnley.
Primarily a full-back, Fox has made 23 appearances for Southampton in the Premier League with his final three appearances for the club coming under Mauricio Pochettino in the 2013-’14 campaign.
It will be interesting to see how Fowler uses him, but his wealth of experience is certain to benefit East Bengal who have precious little time to prepare for the new season.
3. Hugo Boumous (Midfielder – ATK Mohun Bagan)
Boumous is barely an unknown quantity in the ISL having won last season’s player of the year award after dishing out 11 goals and 10 assists for FC Goa. Having joined The Gaurs in 2018, Boumous formed an integral part of Goa’s revolution under Sergio Lobera.
In the 2020-’21 campaign, he will look to perform a similar role, but at Mumbai City FC where City Football Group have made a statement this transfer window. He will be helped by Lobera’s presence at the helm who too made the switch from Goa to Mumbai.
Moreover, he will have former teammates in midfielder Ahmed Jahouh, left-back Mandar Rao Dessai and centre-back Mourtada Fall for company who all swapped Goa for Mumbai.
Boumous’ responsibility this season will be even greater as he will be tasked with executing his manager’s philosophy on the pitch at his new club. After remarkable goal contribution numbers from midfield, expectations are something the Frenchman will have to manage, especially with little time for the Mumbai squad to gel before the season.
4. Igor Angulo (Striker – FC Goa)
Igor Angulo will have big boots to fill as he is tasked with replacing Ferran Corominas – ISL’s all-time leading goalscorer – at FC Goa. The Spanish forward doesn’t have age on his side at 36, but comes to India in excellent form.
Plying his trade in the Polish League, Angulo scored 12 goals in 25 matches for Gornik Zabrze in the 2019-’20 season, taking his overall tally at the club to 84 in 143 matches for the club.
The advantage that Angulo may have over the rest is that he has played recently when the Polish league resumed after the pandemic and comes to India with a good degree of match fitness.
The former Atletic Bilbao frontman has the experience of playing in different countries and thus would have a habit of adapting to new surroundings. The fact that he has scored goals almost everywhere he has been will be encouraging for FC Goa fans.
5. Nerijus Valskis (Striker – Jamshedpur FC)
Last season’s golden boot winner, Valskis has moved to Jamshedpur FC following Owen Coyle, his manager at Chennaiyin last year. The Lithuanian hit the ground running in Indian football scoring 15 goals in his very first season last year, while also providing six assists. He was a key player in Chennaiyin’s run to the final after a slow start to the season.
Valskis has 24 international appearances to his name and has played his club football in his homeland, Israel, Belarus, Poland, Thailand and Romania.
He is a perfect addition to the Jamshedpur FC squad that struggled for goals last season. However, it remains to be seen if he gets the same service as he did at Chennaiyin.
6. Bakary Kone (Defender – Kerala Blasters)
The 32-year-old central defender is a marquee signing by Kerala Blasters. Kone has a vast experience of top-level European football having spent six years at French side Lyon and two years at La Liga outfit Malaga.
Recently, his career has been on a decline though as he only managed one appearance at his last club, Arsenal Tula in the Russian Premier League, where he was removed from the league squad midway through last season.
However, Kone has plenty of experience under his belt to be able to make an impression in Indian football having played 30 times in the Uefa Champions League.
Kibu Vicuna will put the responsibility of leading the defence on the Burkina Faso international who has played for the senior national team on 83 occasions.
7. Bartholomew Ogbeche (Striker – Mumbai City FC)
Bartholomew Ogbeche is 36, but he has proved that age is just a number for him. The Nigeria international has scored 27 goals in 34 matches in the ISL, playing for NorthEast United in 2018-’19 and Kerala Blasters in 2019-’20.
Having secured another move, Ogbeche could be set for his most prolific season yet at Mumbai City FC under Lobera. The former FC Goa manager plays an attacking brand of football that results in plenty of chances for his center-forward. With Ogbeche’s finishing abilities being second to none in the ISL, he could run riot with the likes of Boumous supplying him.
He also has plenty of experience in Indian football now and it could come in handy for Mumbai City FC. Having failed to qualify for the semi-finals last time despite scoring loads of goals, he will be hoping to go all the way with Mumbai City this time around.
8. Steven Taylor (Defender – Odisha FC)
Taylor is a known name across India despite it being his first spell in the country owing to his 13 years in the Premier League with Newcastle United. The English centre-back made 215 appearances for the Magpies in the Premier League and was always the first choice for many managers during that period despite his regular injuries.
Back in the day, Taylor had also attracted interest from Chelsea who were looking at the Englishman as a replacement for John Terry in case he joined Manchester City in 2009.
Taylor will be an invaluable addition to an Odisha squad that has a lot of youngsters in the side. Named captain for the 2020-’21 campaign, the 34-year-old who spent the last two seasons playing in the A-League, will be tasked with solidifying a defence that was largely leaky last term.
9. Anthony Pilkington (Striker/Winger – SC East Bengal)
Pilkington is another former Premier League player to join the ISL this season. He scored 14 times in 75 games for Norwich City during their stay in the English top-flight from 2011 to 2014.
Arriving from Wigan Athletic where he scored three goals last term and with the ability to play both as a striker and winger, the Republic of Ireland international will provide plenty of flexibility to coach Fowler. He will have to shoulder plenty of attacking responsibility being East Bengal’s only foreign recruit in the forward department.
However, his experience of playing in the Championship, considered one of the most physically demanding leagues in Europe, should hold him in good stead in India where short turnover between matches takes a toll on the players.
10. Marcelinho (Striker/Attacking midfielder – Odisha FC)
The Brazilian forward will play his fifth season in the ISL and is back at a club where he had his best spell in India. In the 2016 season, Marcelinho scored ten goals for Odisha (then Delhi Dynamos) before moving to FC Pune City and later to Hyderabad FC.
Despite his teams struggling in the ISL, Marcelinho has been a consistent goalscorer and scored seven times for bottom-placed Hyderabad FC last season.
Part of a rich attacking line-up at Odisha, Marcelinho could be expected to improve on his tally of last season. The Brazilian who is third on ISL’s all-time leading goalscorers’ list would be keen to inch closer to Sunil Chhetri in second place.