Most of the Indian Super League’s foreign players are the wrong side of thirty, but the reasons why the ISL’s younger foreign players moved to India is far more complex.
The Indian Super League kicked off at the weekend with defending champions Atletico de Kolkata beating Chennaiyin 3-2 thanks to two goals from former Spurs, Porto, and Portugal striker Helder Postiga. In two months the league will be over, leaving Indian fans to switch back to watching Manchester United and Chelsea. The Indian Super League has done a good job in getting domestic fans to watch Indian teams, but there are many questions about its long term legacy. By running for just two months a year, any kind of long-term development is ignored, and some people argue that the ISL is creating more problems for Indian football than it solves. The teams involved are reliant on loaning players in, and feel more like fantasy football drafts than real clubs. The short seasons are, however, ideal for semi-retired footballers who can’t handle a whole season of action but still have something to offer on the pitch before they finally leave the game. Florent Malouda, Nicolas Anelka, Adrian Mutu, and Roberto Carlos are just some of the aging talent on display, but while the lure of a final chance to play the game they love in front of large crowds (and the paycheck that goes with it) explain why these former superstars are in India, what about the foreign players who are under thirty?
Wesley Verhoek – FC Pune City (29 years old)
Fans of Nottingham Forest will remember Verhoek for his incredible agility after his sharp turn in 2011 away from the City Ground and straight back to a Netherlands bound flight. Verhoek, then at ADO Den Haag, was supposed to be a vital piece in Steve McClaren’s Forest jigsaw, but after having a medical, he decided that he was already homesick and wished to stay in The Netherlands. He later played for FC Twente and Dutch giants Feyernoord, but given his desire to stay in his home country rather than hop across the North Sea to England, his latest move to FC Pune City seems very out-of-character. The short two-month season might benefit the forward as it means that he can return home sooner than if he had joined a team in any other league.
Andre Moritz – Mumbai City (29 years old)
Unlike Verhoek, Andre Moritz has said that he would be happy in India even if the season was eight months long. This is Moritz’s second spell in India, having played for Mumbai in last year’s competition where he managed the CV-enhancing feat of scoring the first ever hat-trick in the ISL. After his first spell in India, the former Crystal Palace and Bolton Wanderers midfielder joined South Korean club Pohang Steelers, who have loaned the Brazilian back to Mumbai for this year’s campaign.
Darren O’Dea – Mumbai City (28 years old)
Republic of Ireland international Darren O’Dea started his career at Celtic, but since then his journey has been far from ordinary. After a spell at Toronto, O’Dea joined Ukraine side Metalurh Donetsk. During his time there, Russia annexed the part of the country that Metalurh are from, and O’Dea even had guns pointed at him when the team bus was stopped on the way to a match in the Crimea. Eventually, a broken ankle allowed him to end his contract early and return the U.K. where he spent last season at Championship side Blackpool before joining Mumbai when his contract with the Tangerines expired.
Sanchez Watt – Kerala Blasters (24 years old)
Sanchez Watt was spotted by Arsenal while playing for Senrab F.C. the famous East London youth team whose alumni includes Jermaine Defoe and John Terry. While he did play a few games in the League Cup for Arsenal, and even scored on his debut, he was unable to emulate Defoe or Terry and ended up going on a series of loans before signing for Colchester United after his contract with Arsenal expired. The striker was released from Colchester in the summer and will be hoping that he can make a good impression at Kerala and earn a move that could reignite his career.
Apoula Edel – Chennaiyin (29 years old)
Despite being born and raised in Cameroon, Apoula Edel also holds Armenian nationality and the goalkeeper was forced against his wishes to represent Armenia internationally rather than play for the nation of his birth. After much legal wrangling, he is now able to play for Cameroon but hasn’t broken into the team. His career peak came when he moved from Rapid Bucharesti to French giants Paris Saint Germain. He made sixty-eight appearances for PSG but his time there was not without controversy, with one of his former coaches allegedly trying to blackmail Edel, claiming that his name and age are fake, and that he is in fact four years older than he claims to be. Edel left France for Hapoel Tel Aviv where he played for three seasons. He also won last year’s ISL with Atletico de Kolkata.
Javi Lara – Atletico de Kolkata (29 years old)
The journeyman midfielder Javi Lara has spent most of his career in Spain’s lower leagues, but when Eibar won promotion to La Liga for the first time in their history, they made Lara their first signing, giving him the chance to play in Spain’s top tier for the first time in his career. He repaid them by scoring the club’s first ever La Liga goal, a free kick taken from halfway between the goal and the corner flag, and which went in off the upper part of the far post to give Eibar a one-nil win over Real Sociedad. Lara played almost every game for the tiny Spanish club as they avoided relegation before joining Kolkata in the summer.
Ofentse Nato – Atletico de Kolkata (26 years old)
The Botswana international played for Atletico de Kolkata in last year’s ISL. South African media have reported that after his successful spell for Kolkata, he would be joining Spanish side Atletico Madrid on loan after this season’s ISL has finished. Ofentse Nato started his career in his home country before joining South African club Bidvest Wits FC. The defensive midfielder’s international career has been eventful, with Nato being suspended last year for arriving at a training camp intoxicated, and then allegedly threatening to retire from international football. He has since re-joined the national team.
Sony Norde – Mumbai F.C. (26 years old)
Sony Norde joined Mumbai on loan from 2014-5 I-league champions Mohun Bagan F.C. The Haitian international was one of the more impressive players in India’s other top-tier league, scoring eleven times and racking up a high number of assists. His career started in Argentina with Boca Juniors’ B side, and has also played in the Mexican and Bangladeshi leagues.