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ISL Football: extravaganza, back with bigger stakes

With over 200 options available for 10 franchises, the 2017-18 ISL draft threw up some surprising picks. The top picks were the ones with plenty of club appearances behind them, showing that the franchises decided to go for experience instead of youth, writes Sridhar Venkatesh.

With the arrival of two-time I-League winner Bengaluru FC and newcomers Jamshedpur FC to the 2017-18 Indian Super League season, a larger football loving Indian audience is set to be glued to their television sets to watch the third edition of the franchise league.
Owned by Tata Steel, the Jamshedpur franchise stole the show during the 2017-18 ISL draft pick last Sunday. Given the chance to bid ahead of others in the first round of the auction, the Jharkhand-based new entrants broke the bank to secure the services of centre back Anas Edathodika.
The four edition of the ISL draft was a spectacle, to say the least, the most confounding part of which was the rules enforced on teams with respect to bidding for players. Each team was given a salary cap of Rs 18 crore, with a minimum mandatory spending of Rs 5.5 crore. Only Indian footballers were up for grabs at the auction. The regulations allowed each of the 10 clubs to retain a maximum of five players who played for them the previous season, with two of them being senior players and the other three being under-21 players. The 'Instant Trading Card' option was also available to all teams, which would allow them a second chance to trade a player picked before them by a rival team. The card gave them a chance to propose, negotiate and close the deal with the other team within a stipulated time and was available for use twice. Each team was to have a minimum of 15 and a maximum of 18 players, including the retained ones. At the end of Sunday's auction, all teams ended up with 15 players.
Defending champions Atlético de Kolkata retained two of their senior players in stopper Debjit Majumder and Prabir Das. Debutants Bengaluru FC retained their skipper and Indian national men's team captain Sunil Chhetri, along with winger Udanta Singh and two other U-21 players. Chennaiyin FC retained four of their players as well, including forward Jeje Lalpekhlua and goalkeeper Karanjit Singh. Kerala Blasters FC and Mumbai City FC retained three of their former players. Two of their last season footballers were retained by FC Goa, FC Pune City and NorthEast United FC. Delhi Dynamos was the only team not to retain any player, choosing instead to start afresh the upcoming season.
With over 200 options available for the franchises, the bidding wars threw up some surprising picks, who were grabbed for large sums. All the top five players were the ones with plenty of club appearances behind them, showing that the franchises decided to go for experience instead of youth. Here is what can be expected from the top picks of this year's ISL draft and what makes them a force to reckon with:
Anas Edathodika: The 30-year-old defender may not have enough international caps to make him a household name among Indian football fans, but his talent has been recognised by his peers as well as pundits across the country. Last season, Edathodika won the Football Player's Association of India's Player of the Year award, which was followed by the Defender of the Year in June for his exceptional performance with Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan in the previous season of I-League. Despite all his qualities, it came as a surprise to many that Delhi Dynamos chose not to retain his services for the upcoming ISL season. It was reported that Edathodika's demand for higher wage, along with his advanced age, led Dynamos to part with him. Despite being somewhat of a late bloomer, Jamshedpur FC decided to pay Rs 1.1 crore for the Kerala defender, making him the joint highest earner this season.
Eugeneson Lyngdoh: The creative 30-year-old midfielder from Shillong will ply his trade for Atlético de Kolkata (ATK) this season, who bagged him for Rs 1.1 crore. After the auction process ended, Bengaluru FC coach Albert Roca rued the fact that he would not be reunited with his former star. Roca even tried the Instant Trade route to get his former midfielder back, but ATK knew this was a deal not to be missed out on. Lyngdoh spent three seasons at Bengaluru, winning the I-League in two of them under Ashley Westwood. During his three season spell, Lyngdoh was a crucial part of the midfield cog. Now, at ATK, he will be united with Westwood who will serve as the club's director of football. Former Manchester United marksman Teddy Sherringham's appointment as coach will give Lyngdoh extra reason to cheer about. "I've always seen him on TV, but now I'm seeing him live, right in front of me. I'll learn a lot from his experience," Lyngdoh had said after the auction.
Subrata Pal: Arguable one of the greatest active goalkeepers to have played for the Indian national team, Pal's vast experience is something that a new side like Jamshedpur would want desperately. The Jharkhand-based outfit bagged his services for Rs 87 lakh. With 64 international caps to his name, Pal is India's highest capped goalkeeper. However, with the emergence of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Pal has somewhat been relegated to the sidelines. To add to his woes, the recent allegations of doping against him tarnished his name to some extent. Fortunately, the 30-year-old was let off by the National Anti-Doping Agency with a warning, after he convinced a panel that he had consumed a banned substance inadvertently. With the painful lesson behind him now, come October, Pal will be raring to go and prove to the selectors that he still has what is need to play at the highest level: in the blues of the Indian national football team.
Pritam Kotal: 23-year-old Pritam Kotal might not be the first name that comes to mind when people talk of exceptional Indian defenders. That list is mostly occupied by some of the more flamboyant defenders such as Mehrajuddin Wadoo, Arnab Mondal and Sandesh Jhingan. But Kotal boasts of vast amount of I-League experience, having spent the better part of three seasons at Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan AC. Kotal started out his career at Pailan Arrows as a defensive midfielder. Slowly, he pushed himself behind to take up a more proactive role in defense. Now, he primarily plays as a fast and agile right back. Being ATK's most expensive catch in the auction, at Rs 75 lakh, a lot would be expected of Kotal. But with his delicious crosses from across the flanks and enviable pace, Kotal can be expected to set Salt Lake Stadium on fire.
Balwant Singh: Bagged by Mumbai City for Rs 65 lakh, Singh honed his skills at the now forgotten JCT in Punjab. Singh made his debut for the Punjab outfit in 2008, at the age of 22. He then went on to play for Salgaocar and Churchill Brothers, both of whom have now pulled out of the I-League. His 2013-14 season for Churchill was what caught the attention of other clubs, where he scored 17 goals in 32 games across all competitions. Mohun Bagan were the ones who nabbed him in the 2014-15 season. However, his performances in his three seasons at Bagan were not as prolific as his time at Churchill. His two ISL outings at Chennaiyin FC were not memorable either. Yet, Mumbai City have seen something in him, and the stakes are now quite high for the 30-year-old.
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