Goal's best of the foreign flavour in the I-League this year

The season has drawn to a close with Churchill Brothers being crowned champions. Goal lists out some of the overseas players who have had a sizeable impact on their teams....

The Indian domestic football season wound down to a close this week with coaches and players making a final bow before their clubs before reconvening next season. It is going to be a changed I-League next season with two new teams coming into the fray and coaches taking charge at new clubs.

Foreign players have always been amongst the most vital element in an I-League team. They bring the flair, strength and that one moment of magic which can change the game. I-League sides have been dependant, sometimes overly reliant on their foreign imports to change their fortunes. But nevertheless their contribution to their team’s standing in the league table is vital. We, at Goal, list out some foreign players whom we believe have had the most impact for their teams.

Beto – Churchill Brothers

He is Brazilian. Suffice to say, that itself is a synonym for Samba magic. The 33-year old attacking midfielder has been one of the Red Machine’s most consistent players this season. He has been the link between the workmanlike midfield to a potent strike force. 13 goals in 21 games played which included 6 assists speaks volumes of how valuable the Brazilian is to the Goan side. Injuries have taken their toll on the former Dempo man, but he has fought back valiantly to take his place in the playing XI every time to help lead his side to the I-League title. Churchill Brothers haven't won a single I-League game where Beto didn't play a role this season.

Bilal Najjarin- Churchill Brothers

This year’s I-League saw the defences of sides being tested to the hilt. The arrival of new striking talent and an emphasis on attacking football meant that backlines had to be on their very best during every minute of the game. Churchill Brothers' early season form was impressive to say the least. It can be squarely attributed to the presence of their Lebanese import Bilal Najjarin. The centre-half was one of the pillars of the Red Machine defence and was an excellent reader of the game. This was seen by the fact that they conceded only 13 goals in 16 games in the I-League. Post his departure to the UAE, Churchill have let in 19 goals in 16 games in all competitions. The Goans brought in Lamine Tamba, but they sorely missed the defensive organization that the Lebanese centre-half brought to the side.

James Moga – Pune FC

The South Sudan striker made the jump from Sporting Clube de Goa to Derrick Pereira’s Pune FC for the 2012-13 season. The 29-year old was one of the team’s most consistent players and an ever-present threat to the opposition. 16 goals in 24 appearances along with 4 assists for the Red Lizards is a very handy set of numbers for a striker who scored the same number of goals for Sporting in the previous season. A striker is judged by the goals he scored against the big teams in a league. Moga did exactly that as he scored in the league double over Dempo, Prayag United, the win over Mohun Bagan at Kolkata. Only East Bengal and Churchill Brothers resolute defence managed to keep the big man away from goal amongst the top teams in the I-League. Although his place was challenged by the arrival of Boima Karpeh during the January transfer window, Moga still remained the go to man for Derrick Pereira when he needed the goals.

Odafa Okolie – Mohun Bagan

The Nigerian hitman has been a one-man army for the Green and Maroon ever since he joined the club from Churchill Brothers. 20 goals in 22 games with 2 assists is a prolific record for any forward. Karim Bencherifa’s arrival to the team was done in a bid to change the fortunes of a team who hit a rough patch under Santosh Kashyap. Odafa, despite rumours of his troubled relationship with Karim, was the team’s focal point in their bid to garner a favourable position in the league. The striker is also a bit of a hothead as was seen during the ill-tempered Kolkata Derby in December 2012 which saw crowd violence interrupt proceedings resulting in Syed Rahim Nabi being injured. But all this does not cloud the fact that Mohun Bagan would have really been in dire straits had Odafa not come to the party.

Ranti Martins – Prayag United

One would associate names like Ranti Martins to Dempo. The striker spent a vast portion of his time with Armando Colaco’s side where he was their chief striker for 8 years where he won 5 league titles, a Federation Cup and a Durand Cup. After so much success, the hunger to win more in a player usually tends to die out. Ranti did not want that to happen which explained his move to bigwigs Prayag United in the summer of 2012. The 26-year old has taken his goalscoring form along with him to Kolkata as he has ended up as the league’s top scorer with 25 goals in 24 games. This may rank second in his goalscoring exploits compared to the 32 goals he scored with Dempo in the previous season, but it showed just how important Ranti Martins is to any side he played in.

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