Youth v Experience: NEUFC and ATK at opposite ends
Experience came to the fore this season with finalists Kerala Blasters FC and champions Atlético de Kolkata fielding two of the most-experienced sides in terms of average age in Hero Indian Super League 2016. Younger teams also performed well, with the two youngest teams in NorthEast United FC and Delhi Dynamos FC narrowly missing out on the semi-finals and final respectively.
Atlético de Kolkata, who beat Kerala 4-3 on penalties in the final, had the highest average age in Hero ISL 2016 at 29 years and 2 months. In terms of domestic talent, however, Kolkata averaged 26 years and 4 months this season, joint-fifth youngest in the league with FC Goa. Jose Molina’s foreign recruits had an average age of 32 years and 10 months this year, joint-oldest in the league, again with the Gaurs.
With seasoned campaigners like marquee player Helder Postiga, skipper Borja Fernandez and Hero ISL’s all-time top-scorer Iain Hume showing the way, ATK were always going to be a force to reckon with. The youngsters from Kolkata also contributed well. From Lalrindika Ralte to Abinash Ruidas to Pritam Kotal, ATK’s youngsters managed to leave their mark.
ATK were followed by another experienced unit in FC Pune City at 29 years and 1 month, while the Stallions’ domestic players’ average age this season was 27 years and 8 months. Antonio Habas’ men had an average age of 31 years for foreign players in Hero ISL 2016. Pune this season also had the youngest ever marquee player to have graced the Hero ISL in Malian star and former Liverpool midfielder Mohamed Sissoko at 31 years of age.
FC Goa and Kerala Blasters FC were next in the average age table this year with aggregate ages of 29 years and 28 years and 8 months respectively. Goa’s Indian players’ average age was 26 years and 4 months this season, while Kerala’s average age for Indian talents this season was 28 years and 7 months. Hero ISL 2016 rounded off the average age of Goa’s foreign players at 32 years and 10 months, four years more to Kerala’s aggregate age of 28 years and 10 months.
Kerala’s blend of youth and experience saw them through their second final with the likes of marquee player Aaron Hughes, Cedric Hengbart and experienced custodian Sandip Nandy leading the way. As far as youngsters in the Kerala ranks were concerned, look no further than the quartet of defender Sandesh Jhingan, midfielder Vinit Rai, striker Thongkhosiem Haokip and playmaker Josu Currais.
Chennaiyin FC broke the 27-year barrier this season along with Mumbai City FC. Mumbai’s average age this year was 27 years and 2 months, while Chennai’s was 27 years and 10 months. The average age for Indians this season was 25 years and 4 months for Chennai and 25 years and 10 months for Mumbai. Mumbai’s foreign players’ average age was 29 years and five months this year. For the Super Machans, it was 32 years and 1 month.
Mumbai’s marquee man Diego Forlan took on the mantle of spearheading their attack in Hero ISL 2016 with five goals and three assists and helped them reach their maiden semi-final. Romanian centre-back Lucian Goian also played a huge role in Mumbai collecting nine clean sheets. Among Mumbai’s youngsters, Albino Gomes caught the eye in goal. However, Golden Glove winner Amrinder Singh outshone Gomes by picking up five clean sheets in six matches in the latter half of the league.
High-flying Delhi Dynamos FC fielded several youngsters like Chinglensana Singh, Soram Poirei, Kean Lewis and Milan Singh, bringing down the average age of their squad to 26 years and 6 months. As far as average age of Delhi’s homegrown players were concerned, the Dynamos had the second-youngest representation at 24 years and 6 months. In 2016, the average age of foreigners for Delhi was 29 years and 2 months.
Both youngsters and veterans seized the initiative for the Lions this season. Their marquee player Florent Malouda, who became the highest contributor of assists in the history of the league on the back of his five assists this year, also opened his goal-scoring account this season. His winning the Hero-of-the-League award didn’t surprise any.
Lewis was the flagbearer for Delhi’s youngsters right from the get-go with four goals and two assists. Richard Gadze was another impressive youngster for Delhi. With five goals and four assists, he was second only to Golden Boot winner Marcelinho (10 goals and five assists) in terms of goal contribution.
The distinction of having the youngest squad this season belonged to NorthEast United FC (26 years and 1 month). At 23 years and 5 months, they had the lowest average age for domestic players too this season. Foreign players from NorthEast had an average age of 29 years and 6 months in 2016.