The Hero Indian Super League (ISL) transfer season has taken centre-stage as the dust settles on a truly remarkable third round of AFC Asian Cup qualification campaign for India that saw them book their ticket to successive AFC Asian Cup for the first time in history.

India capped off a near-perfect campaign with a 4-0 thrashing of Hong Kong as they ended the tournament with eight scored and just one in return.

One of the heroes of the qualifiers, Ashique Kuruniyan continued to grab the headlines as he secured a move to ATK Mohun Bagan from Bengaluru FC as Prabir Das went the other way.

There was plenty of movement in and out of the Hero ISL clubs as they prepare for what is expected to be a longer and more fulfilling football calendar which is set to give the Indian players perfect preparation for next year’s AFC Asian Cup.

All these talking points formed the centre of the discussion of the LFL Twitter Space podcast last week that saw Hero ISL experts Paul Masefield, Dareen Caldeira and Anant Tyagi share their thoughts on the happenings around Indian football.

Listen to the full LFL Twitter Space podcast below: 

Here are some of the excerpts from the discussion:

On takeaways from AFC

Paul Masefield:  I think a lot can be taken out of it (India's AFC Asian Cup qualifiers campaign). I think it's shown that Indian football can galvanise itself. It's shown that when the boys have got together and they've trained together and they've worked together, they've understood the systems, that Igor Stimac wants to put in place, they can get results as well. It's nice to see an open-flowing passing game, which is what they try to do. The transitions were very good. Their defence didn't get tested a lot but at the end of the day you still got to win games that are in front of you and it doesn't matter who the opposition is, you've still got to get all three points and for me, it was still an achievement to do that.

Anant Tyagi: I had said before the tournament that nothing less than three wins will do, and nothing less than that should do for our tigers in blue. And I'm thrilled that they did that. And every performance got better. I mean, the performance against Cambodia felt like my dad's old Fiat. Then it got to a bit of a Maruti situation and I think we were doing reasonably well against Hong Kong with the clean sheet.

What also stood out for me was how young this team is. It's a great thing that not just the Hero ISL but the national team is getting younger. In 2011, we had a great bunch of players but they were nearing their 30s or in their 30s, then in 2019, it was a lot younger. It's a good sign because if we have to move from being the 19th best team in Asia to the top fifteen, we need to match the levels of those teams.

Darren Caldeira: Winning three games out of three is very important and that was the bare minimum. But let's not forget, that there was pressure coming into these qualifiers. So you have to give credit to both the boys, Igor Stimac and everyone as they've done really well. They've put out a performance, they've come and play positive football, and I think most importantly, you know the boys are going to get confidence by winning games and scoring goals and they've scored eight goals in three games, conceded one but there is a lot of room for improvement. I think defensively we have to get a lot better because there were moments in those games where you felt like you know we should have been defending better.

On a longer football calendar

Anant Tyagi: I think that's what everyone's been crying out for the longest time. The days when Hero ISL and I-League were played in two different windows, players would get a lot of game time. A Sandesh Jhingan would play 16-17 games because Kerala Blasters FC would go to the final and then he would go and play the AFC Cup for BFC. Chhetri would do the same between Mumbai City FC and BFC.

Now with the Durand Cup and a full Hero ISL season of minimum of 20 games, and a Super Cup that's likely to be straight after ISL, you're looking at the same number or much more depending on how far these players progress in the knockout tournaments with their respective teams. I think all ISL coaches have stretched stressed on this, Stimac has said it every single time he's got an opportunity to play. Now, there's a proper football calendar

and that also translates to more match fitness and better individual results that will no doubt help the national team and the nation going forward.

Paul Masefield: It's vitally important as if you play more games, you get fitter, you get more understanding, you get more awareness, particularly for these younger players that are coming through. For them, to play 14-17 games in a season is OK, it's not bad, but if you're playing 28-32 games in a season, the levels and the understanding of the game as well goes up, the awareness goes up. You've got more time to fix things and the way the upcoming season is structured is an absolute positive. It really is because the players are going to have a couple of rest days as well. Now there's going to be home and away travel. All of this bodes well for playing for the national team because that's where you start to learn and understand the game, and that's why it's vitally important that you have to have the proper season, which is why it's been in development. It's coming, and now it's upon us, so it will help Indian football moving forwards.

Darren Caldeira: The level and the awareness increases with the number of games you play and if you ask anybody who's kicked the ball professionally, everyone wants to play more games and the only way you improve is if you're going to play more games and I'm saying official matches. You can have training sessions. You can play practice matches and they work but when you play in a stadium in front of fans, it's much different. There's something known as the match temperament, and that only comes if you're playing official games. So that really builds you as a player, improves your confidence, makes your skill levels a lot higher, and makes you think a lot more.

On Prabir Das and Ashique Kuruniyan exchanging clubs

Paul Masefield: There's no question about it that ATK Mohun Bagan has got the better deal. Prabir didn't play as much as he would have liked to have done last season and the season before and he has been a little bit prone to injuries here and there. Don't get me wrong, I do like Prabir, I think he's a fantastic player. He bombs up and down that right-hand flank and can cause all sorts of problems. But Ashique is the next generation. He is young. We saw that for the national team when he was playing.

It's actually becoming quite scary the squad that ATK Mohun Bagan are gathering. They have all the main Indian talent and national team players. So for me, ATK Mohun Bagan definitely got the better deal.

Darren Caldeira: If you look most recently at the way Juan Ferrando played, he had a 4-3-3 and a 3-4-3 formation in the AFC Cup Group games. I'd love to see Ashique in the front three. Let's just hope he's not played as a left-back again. I'm sure Juan would not make that mistake because we've seen what Ashley can do in the final third. You can play Ashqiue as the left-winger, you can play him in the front three, play him on either wing, you know he can always cut in. He can be more dangerous, even right down the middle through the centre, so he's one of those players that if utilised the right way, can be unstoppable on his day. Ashique is that good. And we've seen that even on the Asian stage, he's a good player. I would love to see a front three of Liston Colaco, Manvir Singh and Ashique. I'm very hopeful because I think these three can be a very deadly combo.

Anant Tyagi: Knowing the Mariners, they will be in for a foreign striker or a forward. I wouldn't put it past them. I don't know what the situation with Hugo Boumous is as well. But if Ashique, Manvir and Liston play together, those will be exciting times.

In Juan Ferrando, they do have someone who will let them express themselves. Obviously, there's a case of Kiyan Nassiri coming off the bench and doing what he did to East Bengal.

As I said at the start, I would be surprised if they don't go for a foreign forward if not an out-and-out striker because of the statement that Krishna gave on the kind of forward that Ferrando likes to play with.