The Indian Super League (ISL) saw stupendous success in its inaugural year in a country that lacks proper footballing culture. The tournament not only popularised football in the India but also nurtured many indigenous grassroot talents. It provided them the platform for the young, talented and highly skilled Indian footballers to showcase their skills in front of millions of fans.
The trend has continued in 2015 too. The second season, which has stepped into round 11, has been nothing short of sensational with the league crossing the 100-goal mark in just 39 matches - seven games early than last year. Lightning starts and dramatic endings have made it a season full of thrilling moments.
One of the things that saw the ISL become such a huge hit and grab the mantle of the fourth most popular league in the world in terms of average attendance was the introduction of overseas players who have come to grace the Indian football in the twilight of their careers. Just like the previous season, this year too the expectations from these established stars were at its peak. And more than the foreign deputes, the league has been a boon for Indian footballers, some of who have shone through to get noticed.
As we head into final the four rounds, IBNLive takes a look at the names who have met expectations and those who failed to do so.
Florent Malouda: The former French international has perfectly settled into his role with the Delhi Dynamos FC team. Malouda, who is a UEFA Champions League winner with Chelsea, already has six assists to his name in the 11 goals his team has scored. It is the most by any player in a single ISL season.
Elano: The Brazilian, who was the winner of the Golden Boot last year, has not lost touch and didn't miss a trick this season too. Picking up from where he had left, the midfielder has four goals and as many assists to his name. His consistent success at Chennaiyin has benefitted his team, more so this season when they are struggling to stay in the top half of the leaderboard.
TP Rehenesh: In the first season of the league, nobody even heard of Rehenesh, a goalkeeper from Kerala. But to everybody's surprise, the 22-year-old has emerged as one of the best in the season. Like what you expect from a talented player, Rehenesh has continued impressive showing for the NorthEast United FC. He is quick as a gazelle between the woodwork, clever as a fox and thinks on his feet. As far as the performance of the goalkeepers are concerned, Rehenesh sits atop with four clean sheets and 38 saves.
Stiven Mendoza: When we talk about Mendoza, we talk about of class and sheer brilliance. With 9 goals in 10 matches, including two hat-tricks, the Colombian has been a consistent performer in Chennaiyin FC's inconsistent run so far in the season. Mendoza has skilfully shouldered the team's scoring responsibilities with Elano and became a popular figure with the club's loyalists. After impressing last year with four goals in seven starts, the 23-year-old joined the Chennai outfit on loan from Brazilian giants Corinthians.
Sunil Chettri: The Indian star needs no introduction when it comes to football in India. Being the poster boy of the game in the country, much was expected from Chhetri who missed out on the inaugural edition of ISL. And he hasn't disappointed. Despite playing a second-choice striker for Mumbai City FC after Nicolas Anelka, Chhetri, who is highest goal-scorer for India, has managed to find the back of the net 6 times in 8 matches.
Nicolas Anelka: A controversial figure throughout his career, the former French international was one of the foreign signings that raised a lot of eyebrows around the world. However, the former Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, PSG and Liverpool striker has largely disappointed with his off-colour showing. Anelka's lack of ownership and responsibility after Mumbai City FC's 0-7 loss against FC Goa also raised questions on his role of a player-manager for the team. He criticized probably his best player, Sunil Chhetri, after the loss and that didn't go down well with a lot of pundits that were already calling for his name due to his poor performances. Anelka is turning out to be a luxury that is too hard for Mumbai to carry.
Roberto Carlos: One of the most celebrated defenders of all time, a former world cup winner with Brazil and a Real Madrid legend, Carlos joined the Delhi Daredevils as a player-manager and promised to take the team to title this year. Though the 42-year-old has managed to take his team almost through to the semis, Carlos has not been that lucky in his own performances. Once a 'bullet man', the age factor has clearly had a toll on his game, even when it comes to his famous curling free-kicks. But the Delhi team won't complain if he takes them to the title as a manager alone.
Fikru Teferra: Who doesn't know about Fikru - the Ethiopian striker who has a place in ISL history as he scored the first-ever goal of the competition in the inaugural game last year before finishing the tournament with five goals in 12 appearances. However, ever since Fikru, who has also captained Ethiopia on the international stage, traded places with Chennaiyin FC this year, he has not been able to display the same class of last year and is left goalless in the 9 matches he has played so far. Fikru's inability to score has increased the burden on a Elano and Mendoza.