Defending champion Dempo SC and last year’s runner-up East Bengal will seek inspiration form their good showing in the recent Federation Cup when they restart their campaign in the sixth edition of the I-League at different venues over the weekend.
The tournament will re-engage the best of Goa and Bengal, where the latter will look to end the dominance of the former over the previous seven seasons.
There is also a sizeable presence from Maharashtra — Pune FC, Mumbai FC, Air India and ONGC FC — and it remains to be seen how the new power in Indian football challenges the traditional giants.
The new entries this season include Baichung Bhutia’s United Sikkim FC, which along with Shillong Lajiong FC will represent the popularity of the sport in North-East.
The premier club engagement of the country is facing questions about its significance owing to diminishing spectator presence. But with the announcement of TEN Sports as the long-term broadcaster, the fears of the tournament going unnoticed has mitigated.
The new broadcaster has promised to show 75 live and delayed matches brightening the scope of marketing the tournament in a better manner.
Dempo continued with the nucleus of the team that includes its long-standing coach Armando Colaco. The seasoned coach, who has guided Dempo to a record five NFL / I-League titles, will be looking to score an encore having retained the core of the team for another season.
The team — which boasts of past and present internationals like Mahesh Gawli, Clifford Miranda, Climax Lawrence, Joaquim Abranches, Samir Naik among others — gives its coach the confidence of retaining the title.
Churchill Brothers and Salgaocar SC — the champions in 2008-09 and 2010-2011 — also have enough talent at disposal and dream of regaining the title.
Both sides reached the Federation Cup semifinals and showed lot of promise under their respective coaches Subhash Bhowmick and Karim Bencherifa. The fourth team Sporting Clube de Goa is definitely a dark-horse capable of surprising many fancied opponents.
East Bengal, the Federation Cup champion, leads the Bengal brigade and is definitely one of the foremost claimants of the title.
The team under English coach Trevor James Morgan has won every title in the last three seasons except the I-League. Morgan has hoped the team will be more consistent this time and bring home the League, which it had last won in 2004.
East Bengal possesses a nice balance of youth and experience, which helped it regain the Fed Cup earlier in the week.
Former champion Mohun Bagan and Prayag United SC made costly acquisitions but failed to deliver in the Fed Cup. The two will hope to regain form in the league and justify their multi-crore budget.
The fourth from Bengal is the AIFF’s youth development side Pailan Arrows, which emerged as a strong side under the coaching of Australian Arthur Papas.
In all, the 182-match fixture extended over seven months is expected to offer lots of twists and turns and it remains to be seen which team produces the most consistent performance to be called the champion club of the country.