Best of the Rest: Flames that burnt strong and made Hero ISL 2020-21 a colourful spectacle

As the dust settles on what was an exhilarating league stage of Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2020-21, an exciting conclusion still awaits us. Mumbai City FC will square off against FC Goa in the first leg of Semi-final 1 on Friday, while ATK Mohun Bagan take on NorthEast United FC in the first leg of Semi-final 2 just 24 hours later. However, here we have a look back at some of the most outstanding individual performers from the season who couldn’t make it to the final four despite enjoying a fine campaign themselves. Had the entire team been performing to their potential, some of these players could have continued to shine in the semis. That said, collective shortcomings mean that we have to bid adieu to these top talents that lit up Hero ISL 2020-21 with their quality and personality.

Aridane Santana (Hyderabad FC)

While there were many players from Hyderabad FC that enjoyed themselves and made telling contributions, perhaps no other had more influence than striker Aridane Santana. The Spanish forward showed us his quality by top-scoring for Hyderabad FC with 10 goals, only behind Roy Krishna (14), Igor Angulo (13), Diego Mauricio (12) and Adam le Fondre (11). Unfortunately for Santana, he had to serve a suspension in Hyderabad FC’s last game of the season that ended their semis hopes following a goalless draw. Not just a targetman, the Spaniard was pivotal to his team’s build-up play and also provided a couple of assists.

Stephen Eze (Jamshedpur FC)

Despite falling short in their quest for the semis, there were plenty of positives for Jamshedpur FC and one of them was the ease with which Stephen Eze adjusted to life at the back for Owen Coyle’s men. A towering presence in both boxes, Eze was a man-mountain at the back for Jamshedpur FC and a nightmare for opposition attackers. The powerful Nigerian defender was dominant defensively and completed 35 blocks, 60 interceptions and 118 clearances for his team. Calm with the ball at his feet, Eze had a passing accuracy of 64.2%, created four chances, made four key passes besides also finding the back of the net on four occasions, making him a massive threat in the opposition box as well.  

Cleiton Silva (Bengaluru FC)

Like Eze, Cleiton Silva was another player who had a good season while expressing himself on the pitch in his debut Hero ISL campaign. The Brazilian was one of Bengaluru FC’s few positives in what was an otherwise underwhelming campaign. Only Sunil Chhetri (8 goals) found the back of the net more times for the Blues than Cleiton, who netted seven times. As far as assists are concerned, no Bengaluru FC player set up a teammate for a goal more than the Brazilian, who provided four assists. Cleiton also fulfilled his defensive responsibilities for Bengaluru FC and can be proud of what was a solid debut season in India’s premier football league.

Lallianzuala Chhangte (Chennaiyin FC)

Even though Lallianzuala Chhangte’s numbers are down from last season, he was still one of Chennaiyin FC’s most dangerous players in Hero ISL 2020-21. The Indian winger always posed a threat and was even unplayable in patches, although improving his end-product remains one area of his game that needs to be worked on. That said, when in the mood Chhangte managed to put opposition defences, especially fullbacks, in all sorts of trouble with his quick feet, trickery, guile and change of pace. The Indian winger ended the season on four goals and an assist but will know that he could have had a few more considering the areas and situations he was involved in over the course of the campaign.

Matti Steinmann (SC East Bengal)

Matti Steinmann never looked off the pace and always seemed to be a step ahead despite SC East Bengal’s underwhelming Hero ISL bow collectively. The German midfielder brought a sense of calm in midfield and kept ticking things over at the center of the park for Robbie Fowler’s men. A highly competitive talent, Steinmann made 53 tackles and thrived while being in the thick of the action. He was equally effective in both halves. Not only did he top the chart for most goals by a SC East Bengal player having found the back of the net four times, Steinmann was, with three assists, also their joint-top assist-maker. 

Jordan Murray (Kerala Blasters FC)

Jordan Murray was Kerala Blasters FC’s biggest offensive threat and scored some memorable goals for the southerners this season. The Australian frontman was a willing runner for lost causes and kept going till the final whistle. His most fond Hero ISL 2020-21 memory will be his late brace against Jamshedpur FC which gave a 10-man Kerala Blasters FC team the win. Murray, in fact, was the Blasters’ most regular goal-getter and was always causing problems for the opposition even when he didn’t get on the scoresheet. He also provided an assist and developed a good understanding with strike partner Gary Hooper.  

Diego Mauricio (Odisha FC)

Of all the players on this list, perhaps Diego Mauricio will be the one most missed by the neutrals. The Brazilian attacker was Odisha FC’s talisman, netting 12 goals – almost half of his team’s tally for the season. He announced himself by scoring a brace after coming off the bench and never looked back. Whenever on the ball, Mauricio made things happen whether scoring stunners from range or dribbling past defenders in style. He provided two assists as well and scored with a freekick that went under a jumping wall in Odisha FC’s last match of the season. Unfortunately for Mauricio, he’s now out of the Golden Boot race despite being just two strikes shy of top spot.

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