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ISL 2017: Can Englishmen make a mark after disappointing returns in previous editions?

04:21 GMT 16/11/2017
Jermaine Pennant of FC Pune City in action during ISL match against FC Goa
England players have a dismal track record in the ISL so far but will it all change with the involvement of five players in the upcoming edition?

When compiling a list of overseas players who have stood out in the Indian Super League (ISL), one would be hard pressed to find any Englishman who fits the description.

In the three editions since the league was launched, there have been 16 players from England who have plied their trade on Indian soil. With the undying popularity the Premier League enjoys in the country, the spotlight on players from the former colonial rulers of India has always been a tad greater.

For the large majority, Englishmen have found it tough to get going in the league despite several big-names making the long journey to India for the ISL.

The likes of David James, Nicky Shorey, Jermain Pennant and Michael Chopra have all tested their mettle in the ISL so far though their impact has left a lot to be desired.

While James did help Kerala Blasters all the way to the final in the inaugural edition in a dual player-cum-manager role, his compatriots have fared relatively grimly in India. Chopra, the English striker with Indian roots arrived in the country amidst much fanfare and expectations to join up with James at Kerala in 2014.

However, while the former Liverpool-man James can come out with his head held high after his Indian stint, the same cannot be said for Chopra who has excelled in the Championship division in England along with brief spells in the Premier League.

Chopra’s first involvement in the ISL was cut short due to injury troubles but he was unable to find the back of the net despite making nine appearances in 2014. He returned to Kerala in 2016 and fared only marginally better capping off 10 appearances with a solitary goal, underlying his poor showing in the country whose colours he greatly desired to represent at one point.

The same can be said for former Liverpool and Arsenal winger Pennant who was on the books of the FC Pune City during the first edition. Known for his trickery and pace to burn on the wings, the former England U-21 international had a dismal time at Pune going on to make only seven appearances without scoring a single goal.

Antonio German was on fire during his first stint with Kerala Blasters in 2015 with six goals to his tally but fizzled out in the next edition as he went goal-less in 11 outings.  There have been several other Englishmen in the league whose contributions fail to invoke a sense of success.

It has to be noted that no English player has won the competition in its three-year history. 

The upcoming edition of the ISL will see six players from England on display with former Manchester United defender Wes Brown the standout name amongst those in the fray. He will be joined by Tom Thorpe, Carl Baker, Conor Thomas, John Johnson and Paul Rachubka for the four-month long footballing extravaganza.

Brown, winner of multiple Champions League and Premier League titles with Manchester United, will turn up for Kerala Blasters which has been a preferred choice for many of his compatriots to have played in the ISL. Now 38-years-old, it will be interesting to see if Brown can replicate his performances for the English giants with the Kochi-based outfit.

Thorpe meanwhile, will don the jersey of two-time winner ATK. Having come up through the youth ranks at United like his compatriot Brown, the 24-year-old’s career has not seen the upward trajectory many had predicted for the defender after his showings in the United youth and reserve teams.

A Liverpool player at the schoolboy level, Baker has extensive experience in the lower divisions of English football and the 34-year-old will now team up with Thorpe at the Kolkata outfit. A winger by trade, Baker carries with him a potent goal threat and as such, he will be worth keeping an eye on during the fourth edition of the league.

Joining the duo at Kolkata will be a third Englishman in the form of Thomas, a midfielder by profession. Capped by England at the U17 and U18 levels, the 24-year-old has enjoyed fruitful spells at Coventry City and Swindon Town.

The fifth player with an English connection will be veteran goalkeeper Paul Rachubka who was born to an English mother and American father. Based in the United States, the 34-year-old has represented the Three Lions in the U16, U18 and U20 divisions in his career though he has since attempted to represent the USMNT in his senior playing days.

Another one from the Manchester United academy, Rachubka will join Brown at Kerala for the upcoming edition. Also playing his first ISL campaign will be Bengaluru FC defender John Johnson. However, the central defender has the advantage of having played three seasons in Indian football and is better equipped to deal with the rigours of playing in India. 

The six of them have in them the capabilities of improving the report card of Englishmen in the ISL though it remains to be seen if they will also flatter to deceive come the end of the league on March 17.