Kolkata: None would have thought that almost halfway through the second season of the Indian Super League (ISL), it will be local striker Sunil Chhetri who would head the list of goal scorers. But it is indeed the 31-year-old who sits atop the table with six strikes from four matches for his side Mumbai City FC in his first season.
The star Indian forward fired a hattrick against NorthEast United FC including an expertly taken ‘Paneka’ penalty which sent rival custodian Rehenesh T.P. diving the wrong side.
After missing the first two matches, the Indian captain has now scored six from only four outings. In his last game against Atletico de Kolkata however, he failed to get on to the scoresheet in Mumbai’s 1-4 loss. He has also got one assist to his credit.
“He has this inborn talent, someone like a Krishanu Dey. With practice he has now improved as a striker, he will do well under any circumstance. I was the one who spotted a very young Sunil for Mohun Bagan and then selected him from the trials,” former Indian football captain Subrata Bhattacharya told IANS.
“A few Indian players are doing well and of course Chhetri. He is a brilliant striker, there are more goals that will come his way,” East Bengal coach and former Indian striker Biswajit Bhattaracharya said. But has the quality of football improved? Or has any local talent emerged from the league who has taken the league by storm? The grounds too have not been well maintained, which has resulted in some encounters lacking pace.
“No one impressed me as such. Many World Cuppers are here who are well past their prime. The likes of Roberto Carlos and Nicolas Anelka can be coaches, all right. But they are not all fit enough to play in any league,” Subrata said. “Overall the standard of football has not impressed me at all. The marquees are world class no doubt, but many of the other foreigners are C-grade players. How will it improve the league? Many players are above 30 and hence it is affecting the game’s pace too.
“If you have to really improve the footballing standards, you have to spend on building top class academies too and groom Indian players there, which will help Indian football in future. You have to get the right people in the right places,” he said.
In Guwahati, Kolkata, Goa and Kochi, the crowds have turned up in good numbers. But that is not the case in a prime venue like Mumbai. Biswajit is confident that the turnout would go up in future. “The league is very new still, in its second season. Hope it will get in more crowds very soon,” he said.
It is another Indian who heads the list for the most saves as a goalkeeper, and it is Amrinder Singh of Atletico de Kolkata with 21 saves. Brazilian midfielder Elano Blumer of Chennayin FC has the most assists (4) to his credit to go alongside his three strikes.
In the eight horse race, Pune City FC lead the charts with 13 points from seven games, followed by Delhi Dyanamos, who trail by one point and have played one match less. Defending champions Atletico de Kolkata are fifth, culling 10 points from seven ties. Sachin Tendulkar co-owned Kerala Blasters are at the bottom, managing only five points from seven outings.