Though the number of teams has gradually increased in the Indian Super League, only three clubs have been crowned ISL champions in the six editions so far.
The seventh edition of the Indian Super League (ISL) is set to be the biggest so far in terms of teams taking part.
The inclusion of two of Indian football’s greatest clubs, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, have only boosted the status and glamour of the league.
It means 11 ISL teams will be vying for the title in ISL 2020-21 and the all-important AFC Champions League group stage spot.
The ISL champions list features three clubs who have lifted the title in the six editions so far. Here’s a look at how the teams sealed the title in the previous editions.
Having struggled for some quality results in the two seasons building up to the ISL 2019-20 campaign, the Kolkata-based ATK went back to their proven methods and welcomed Spaniard Antonio Lopez Habas as the head coach for a second term.
Habas was quick to address the problems in the side and signed proven goalscorers in David Williams and Roy Krishna from the Australian A-League. The move proved to be a masterstroke as ATK enjoyed a fine run winning 10 of their 18 games — scoring 33 goals — to make it to the playoffs.
In the semi-final, although ATK suffered a 1-0 loss against reigning champions Bengaluru FC in the first leg, they won at home to make it to the final.
The final against Chennaiyin FC was a close contest. But ATK held their nerves to win via an injury-time goal and pocket their third ISL crown.
Coming into the 2018-19 season, Bengaluru FC was undoubtedly one of the favourites for the ISL title. Having lost the final a year ago on their home turf, the Sunil Chhetri-led side was determined to go a step further.
And under their new head coach Carles Cuadrat, they did just that as Bengaluru FC put up a dominant show to top the league stages. They then dispatched a hapless NorthEast United in the semi-finals to set up an exciting final against a free-scoring FC Goa.
While many hoped the final to be a goal-fest, the match at the Mumbai Football Arena turned out to be a cat and mouse affair with Bengaluru FC nicking the win with a 117th-minute winner from a corner kick.
This was the year that saw ISL take its first steps towards being the premier league of the country.
With two new teams in the mix, Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC, and with the recognition from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), ISL clubs had something more to fight for — a playoff slot in the AFC Cup.
Chennaiyin FC put on a strong show under the leadership of head coach John Gregory to win their second ISL title.
Though known to make his teams play the tried and tested ‘long ball’ game, former Aston Villa manager Gregory was a bit different with Chennaiyin FC as he banked on the team’s strengths and often hit the opponents on counters to get the goals.
Leading the team on the pitch were the likes of Jeje Lalpekhluah, Jerry Lalrinzuala and Dhanpal Ganesh, as Chennaiyin FC made it to the playoffs in the second spot behind Bengaluru FC.
In the semi-final, they beat FC Goa 4-1 on aggregate before registering a comfortable 3-1 win over Bengaluru FC to be crowned ISL champions.
This was a period when the Indian Super League functioned as one-off competition with players from the I-League, India’s premier football league, being loaned out to the ISL teams for a two-month period.
With UEFA Champions League winner Florent Malouda, Uruguayan star Diego Forlán and the former Liverpool player John Arne Riise featuring in the league, there was no lack of glitz and glamour.
While Forlan led Mumbai City FC to the top of the table in the league phase, the former Manchester United striker couldn’t do much in the playoffs as Atletico de Kolkata registered comfortable wins to make it to another final.
Up against Kerala Blasters in the final, the Jose Francisco Molina-coached Chennaiyin FC came out triumphant to lift the title after a nail-biting penalty shootout.
Having been with Chennaiyin FC for two years, the 2015 season saw World Cup winner Marco Materazzi take over as the full-time coach of the team.
Though the Italian’s reign started on a shaky note, five back-to-back wins in the latter half of the regular season helped Chennaiyin FC reach the playoffs.
Chennaiyin FC ensured that they continued their red hot form in the business end of the competition as they beat the then reigning champions Atletico de Kolkata in the semi-final before a late strike from the Golden Boot winner of the season, Stiven Mendoza, helped them beat FC Goa for the title.
With footballing greats like Luis García, Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg in the mix, the inaugural season of the Indian Super League was a star-studded affair.
While Atletico de Kolkata relied on their gritty defensive performance and head coach Antonio Lopez Habas’ tactical genius, Kerala Blasters FC rode on the brilliance of their Canadian forward Iain Hume to make it to the final.
The summit tie too was no different as it needed an injury-time goal from an unlikely hero in Indian midfielder Mohammed Rafique to settle the tie in Atlético de Kolkata’s favour to crown them the first champions of ISL.