The Indian Super League (ISL) will enter its tenth season when Kerala Blasters FC welcome rivals Bengaluru FC in the opening match of the ISL 2023-24 season in Kochi on Thursday.

The league has come a long way since a glitzy opening day in Kolkata in 2014. From the increase in the number of teams to the rise in the number of Indian players on the pitch, the ISL has slowly taken steps towards being a robust domestic league that Indian football needs.

Many players and coaches have come and gone over the years as the league was an arena of constant change in its initial years as it found its feet in the footballing world. But as years progressed, the league and its teams have found stability and extended the Indian football ecosystem much wider and deeper. 

As we head into the landmark tenth season, the biggest sign of stability of the league is the number of coaches that have been around for more than a year. The ISL over the years has been able to create an atmosphere for quality foreign coaches to not just opt to work in the league but to also make it their home. 

ISL 2023-24 will have only four head coaches who haven’t been in the ISL before. Three head coaches will be entering their third straight season with their respective teams, while four teams have appointed head coaches who have prior experience working in the ISL for more than a season. 

Six head coaches namely Owen Coyle at Chennaiyin FC, Carles Cuadrat at East Bengal FC, Manolo Marquez at FC Goa, Juan Ferrando at Mohun Bagan Super Giant, Des Buckingham at Mumbai City FC and Sergio Lobera at Odisha FC have won either the ISL Cup or the ISL Shield or both with their current club or at some other club previously. 

So, the willingness of these successful head coaches to build their careers in the ISL bodes well for the league. 

“It means a lot when a lot of people want to return to work here. It means that it's a good place to work,” Odisha FC head coach Lobera had told Sportskeeda in an interview earlier this year. Lobera has been one of the most successful coaches in the league and won the ISL Cup and League Shield double with Mumbai City FC in 2020-21. 

He also had a hugely successful spell at FC Goa. The Gaurs scored 116 goals in the ISL under the Spaniard, the highest number of goals scored by a team under a single head coach. The former Barcelona youth coach gave chances to a number of young players who have become regulars in the league now and also for the national team. 

At Chennaiyin FC, Coyle is returning to the club having guided them to the final in 2019-20. He then had a spell with Jamshedpur FC where he led the Men of Steel to the League Shield triumph and after a year in Scotland, he is back in the ISL to win more silverware. The Scottish manager also believed in putting faith in the youngsters and getting the best out of them. At Jamshedpur FC, he helped the likes of Ritwik Das, Boris Singh and Ishan Pandita deliver top performances on a consistent basis. 

“I’m delighted to be back. I think the ISL is growing every year. We certainly as coaches have an obligation to try and help to do that and I think the development of the young Indian players is important now,” Coyle said during the ISL Media Day in Bengaluru.

Unlike Coyle, it’s a continuous stretch for Marquez in the ISL who will join FC Goa from Hyderabad FC. The Spaniard had the biggest impact in terms of developing young players at Hyderabad FC as he took a team that finished bottom of the table in 2019-20 to a team that didn’t just win the ISL Cup in 2021-22 but also was one of the most consistent teams in the ISL over the last two years. 

At FC Goa, there is a much greater history of success than when he took over a new Hyderabad FC side, Marquez feels the season will be the hardest with so many experienced coaches in the league. 

“There are very good coaches now, coaches who have had success in the past. I am happy that all of them are back,” Marquez told The Times of India in an interview after joining FC Goa. 

“I know Sergio, Carles and Owen, and have a good relationship with all three. I think it will be a nice competition. Maybe, now I can tell you, this will be the hardest season,” he added. 

Another Spaniard who has come back to the ISL is East Bengal FC’s Cuadrat who won the ISL Cup with Bengaluru FC in 2018-19. The former Barcelona coach echoed Marquez’s thoughts of the coaches raising the quality of the league. 

"It'll be an interesting ISL because we'll meet a lot of coaches who have been champions in India, be it the Champions of the ISL, Federation Cup, Super Cup etc. They already know how to be competitive in that environment, so that's great for ISL to have so many champion coaches in the competition," he said during the interaction at the ISL Media Day in Kolkata. 

The head coaches may not have India as their nationality but when it comes to the ISL, they don’t shy away from speaking about it as their home league. They now possess the knowledge of what works best in the ISL and have the keys to unlock the potential of the Indian players. 

With every passing season, the players have improved but so have the coaches who have made the ISL their playground. And with so many former champions itching to repeat their heroics, ISL 2023-24 can’t come sooner.