Ever since the Indian Super League (ISL) began, international stars have often been the main dish.
In the past, the ISL and its clubs have seen some big-name players like Roberto Carlos, Alessandro Del Piero, Freddie Ljungberg, Marco Materazzi and Diego Forlan grace the pitch.
But as the league has evolved, the focus has also moved on from foreign players at the tailend of their careers to names who can improve the quality of the game in India. This has seen Bartholomew Ogbeche, Ferran Corominas, Ahmed Jahouh and Roy Krishna step up.
This season,the league has tweaked the foreign player rule to ensure that it adheres to the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) guidelines. The change has made it mandatory for the clubs to include at least one player from the AFC nation - to boost increased participation from Asia - among the seven permitted foreigners in the squad.
As per the foreign player regulation, only four international players can take the field at any given point.
Here’s a look at some of the must-watch foreign players in ISL 2020-21.
Adam Le Fondre: Mumbai City FC
He calls himself ‘selfish’ and ‘ruthless’ inside the penalty box. But for a striker, that’s not a bad quality to have.
The 33-year-old Adam Le Fondre is one of the best players from the Australian A-League to make his move to the ISL this season.
Joining Mumbai City FC on a season-long loan from A-League runners-up Sydney FC, the Englishman will hope to inspire Mumbai to their maiden ISL title.
Le Fondre comes on the back of two quality seasons with Sydney FC where he showed his finishing prowess.
On his debut A-League season, the former Premier League player with Reading FC scored 20 goals in 32 games across competitions.
The following year, Le Fondre scored the same number of goals, but this time in just 23 matches.
With Bartholomew Ogbeche for company, the Englishman will be keen to improve the numbers this season.
Bakary Kone: Kerala Blasters FC
After struggling to make an impact in the last two ISL seasons because of a porous defence, Kerala Blasters FC have strengthened their backline this time by roping in the former Olympique Lyonnais and Malaga centre-back Bakary Kone.
Having spent around five years with the French side, Lyon, the Burkina Faso international squared off against superstars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Neymar Jr, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani. He also played a key role in his team’s winning run in the 2011-12 Coupe De France the 2012 Trophee Des Champions.
Bakary Kone, who has featured in the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League, is poised to lead the Kerala defence this season. Banking on his aerial prowess, the 32-year-old will play a key role if the Kerala Blasters are to challenge for the ISL title this season.
Gary Hooper: Kerala Blaster FC
Another foreign recruit to watch out this season will be the former Celtic FC star, Gary Hooper.
The 32-year-old Hooper is one of the seven foreigners in the squad and joins the side from A-League’s Wellington Phoenix.
Having played with Norwich City in the Premier League, the English forward is a typical No. 9 with a great eye for the goal and attacking instincts inside the box. If the Kerala Blasters can provide him with regular service from the midfield, Hooper should be able to make his presence felt in the ISL.
While the new signings look promising, there are a few of ISL's foreign players who have left their mark in the league over the past seasons. Here’s a look:
Ferran Corominas: FC Goa
Not many players have impacted a team’s fortunes like Ferran Corominas. Having joined FC Goa in 2017, Coro was the goal machine that led the club to many memorable wins during his time.
The all-time leading goal-scorer of the ISL with 48 goals, Coro was instrumental in ensuring that FC Goa made it to the playoffs every year and thus helping them become the first Indian team to make it to the group stages of the AFC Champions League.
While his ability inside the box was unquestionable, what made the Spaniard special was his ability to draw his team-mates into the game. He would often pull the defenders on to him to create openings for others to exploit.
Ferran Corominas has joined Atlético Baleares in the Spanish Segunda B Division this season and will not feature in ISL 2020-21.
Iain Hume: ATK, Kerala Blasters, FC Pune City
Having played for three clubs in the league during his five years, Iain Hume’s time in the ISL is best remembered for his impactful performances with Kerala Blasters and ATK (now rechristened ATK Mohun Bagan).
Having signed from the Kerala team in 2015, Iain Hume was an instant hit with the famed Manjapada (Kerala Blasters’ supporters) as he played an integral part in leading the team to the ISL final.
After a brief loan spell with England’s League Two side Tranmere Rovers during the Indian off-season, the Canadian striker was back in India, this time signing a deal with Kolkata-based ATK.
Though Hume switched teams, it didn’t impact his performance as he scored 18 goals from 30 matches in his two seasons at ATK which culminated with the title victory in 2016. Iain Hume wrapped up the competition as the second-best goal-scorer in the league with seven strikes, only behind the golden boot winner Marcelinho who had 10 goals to his name.
Stiven Mendoza: Chennaiyin FC
For anyone who remembers the 2015 ISL final, Stiven Mendoza is sure to be lodged into their memory.
A season that had his brilliance written all over it, it was fitting that the Colombian forward sealed his team, Chennaiyin FC’s title-win in the dying minutes of the final.
Quick on his feet, Stiven Mendoza was smart with his movements in the attacking third as he would often create enough space to work his magic with the ball. He was lethal with his strikes and it was no surprise that he finished the 2015 edition - the only year he played the entire competition - with 13 goals in 16 matches to win the Golden Boot award.