Best of the rest: 11 of Hero ISL's top players who did not make it to the semi-finals
The Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19 has been a memorable one for reason aplenty. Fantastic teams on display, breath-taking goals and passionate fans have defined the season over the past five months. Once the dust settled in the league phase, the top four teams stood out to earn their place in the semi-finals and are currently vying for a place in the grand finale.
However, as we immerse ourselves in the engrossing contest, let’s not forget a few select individuals who consistently delivered for their teams throughout the season but sadly won't be featuring in the semis. While results might not have gone their way, their performances still merit a mention. Here, we cherrypick the best XI that missed out on a place in the semi-finals.
After a dismal start to the campaign, Pune did well to regain face and finish at a respectable seventh place in the standings. Goalkeeper Kamaljit Singh, impressed with his performances throughout. Despite keeping just two clean sheets, the 23-year-old, who displaced Vishal Kaith as Pune’s first choice keeper, has the distinction of making the most number of saves among the league’s keepers with 59. Being the Stallions' last guard behind a very shaky defence for the majority of the season was no easy task but the young custodian pulled off some of the most memorable saves from the season, bailing his team out or minimizing the damage time and again. To put his 59 saves into context, Kamaljit had to make these in just 14 appearances. The two behind him, Bengaluru's Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (56 in 18 matches) and Amrinder Singh (55 in 17) are both frontrunners for this season's Golden Glove award and had the luxury of two very solid defences protecting them. Kamaljit's breakthrough campaign will undoubtedly pave the way for more success in the near future.
Arguably the best centre-back in the Hero ISL over the past couple of years, Tiri was rock-solid for Jamshedpur. His tough tackling and presence of mind at the back was an integral factor behind Jamshedpur’s five clean sheets. The Spaniard was ultimately left disappointed that his side could not qualify for the semi-finals, but he can hold his head held up high for a series of outstanding defensive performances.
While Delhi Dynamos had to endure another painful season with a series of damaging results, they will have been pleased with some of their new recruits - in particular, Gianni Zuiverloon. The Dutchman took his time to adjust to the league’s pace but did go on to have a growing influence on the team especially during the Lions’ brilliant run towards the end of the campaign. His ability to carry the ball from the back was central to Josep Gombau’s philosophy and fans will be hoping to see more of the same from the 32-year-old next time around.
The Hero ISL’s most capped player, Sandesh Jhingan, had a tumultuous season for Kerala Blasters. After getting off to a brilliant start with a 2-0 victory over ATK in the opening day, Kerala failed to register a single victory until February. Unfortunately for the men in yellow, the poor results overshadowed the performances from a select few individuals, including Sandesh Jhingan. With 119 clearances, 28 blocks and 47 tackles, Jhingan’s numbers are a testament to his defensive capabilities.
Another of Hero ISL’s most consistent players, Manuel Lanzarote had been at his creative best for the majority of the season with ATK. With five goals and two assists, the Spanish midfielder was the lynchpin of Steve Coppell’s side, but more often than not had to carry his team across the finish line on his own. Ultimately, his individual brilliance was not enough to book a semi-final spot for the two-time champions.
Sahal Abdul Samad
The breakthrough star of this season has undoubtedly been Kerala Blasters’ Sahal Abdul Samad. At just 21 years of age, Sahal has firmly established himself as one of the country’s most gifted players. His ball control and composure at the centre of the pitch caught the attention of the fans and pundits alike. One of the highlights of Kerala’s season was Sahal’s stunning finish against Chennaiyin, which was only their second win of the season. Fans will be keenly awaiting what Sahal has in store for the subsequent seasons.
So often the rock that holds Jamshedpur’s fort at the centre of the pitch, Memo was an integral figure of Cesar Ferrando’s squad. His ball retention abilities were central to a majority of Jamshedpur’s attacking impetus. The highlight of his season was the stunning piledriver he scored against Goa in November.
If one were to point out one highlight from Jamshedpur’s season, their 4-1 victory against Goa in November would be on the top of that list. Incidentally, that match also marked the emergence of one of the Hero ISL’s finds of the season, Michael Soosairaj. Soosairaj stunned the mighty Gaurs Goa with his explosive pace and quick feet. He also happened to score one of the season’s finest goals with a beautifully crafted curler. Since that match, the Tamil Nadu-based forward has gone from strength to strength with a series of fine performances. Unfortunately, injury troubles prevented him from having a bigger influence.
One of India’s brightest sparks over the past few years, Lallianzuala Chhangte has shown shades of brilliance over the course of the campaign. Playing on the left wing, Chhangte impressed with his weaving runs down the flanks. The 21-year-old also caught the attention of Norwegian club Vikings FK where he would spend two days on trial. The youngster also ended the league phase with 5 goals, which made him the joint second-highest scorer (along with Bengaluru's Udanta Singh) among the Indian contingent this season. Only Sunil Chhetri with 8 had scored more. Looking at his talents, one can only expect Chhangte to taste much bigger success in the near future.
When it comes to the most creative players in the Hero ISL, Carlos Calvo ranks right up there with the best. The Spaniard has been a constant threat for Jamshedpur with his vision and skills on the ball. He racked up six assists this season – only one behind FC Goa's Ferran Corominas. His partnership with the likes of Sergio Cidoncha and Soosairaj was a nightmare for opposition defenders. However, like Soosairaj, a series of injuries and suspensions limited his influence on the team.
While he might not have been at his prolific best this season in front of goal, Marcelo Pereira played a big role in Pune’s resurgence during the second half of the season. After struggling in the first half of the season, the Brazilian did come into his own in the second half and showcased just why he is one of the most feared forwards in the Hero ISL. With six goals and four assists, Marcelo finished as Pune’s top goal contributor.