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2021/22 I league season: Title challengers

The 2021/22 I league season is set to begin on Boxing Day, December 26th and this will be the 15th edition of the competition. Here we look at this season’s title challengers.

Last updated: 26.12.2021
2021-22 I league season Title challengers

The 2021/22 I league season is set to begin on Boxing Day, December 26th and this will be the 15th edition of the competition. The tournament is hosted in a biosecure bubble in Kolkata due to the pandemic situation in the country. 

Gokulam Kerala FC lifted their first title last season and subsequently qualified for the group stages of the AFC Cup 2022. We take a look at the potential title challengers this season and evaluate their chances to win the league this time out. 


5) RoundGlass Punjab 

Punjab FC, now under the owning name RoundGlass, have been a reputed club in the league. They won the league in 2017/18 and have produced remarkable talents from their academy. The club is preparing to repeat the feat of that season with some interesting signings and a familiar face returning to the dugout. RoundGlass Punjab made their intentions clear calling Ashley Westwood back to management. A renowned name in Indian football and winner of this competition twice with  Bengaluru FC, Westwood hopes to deliver this piece of silverware again with an ambitious club.

The signing of veterans like Kean Lewis, C.K Vineeth, Rino Anto and even Robin Singh is a move to add a vast amount of experience to the team. In addition, the continued faith in youth has propelled with the arrival of Ishaan Sahi from promoted team Rajasthan United FC and Ashis Pradhan from the Calcutta Football League side, Southern Samity. Australian center forward Travis Major is the only foreign signing the club has made. RGP ended the 2020/21 season in fourth place in the Championship phase but they are adamant to do more than that with planned recruitment and having one of the finest tacticians in the league in their hand. 

4) Real Kashmir 

The club from the Northern state have always carried to upset title challengers and proved to be a hard opposition to beat down. Real Kashmir also won the historical IFA Shield for back-to-back campaigns stating their winning mentality. Last season, RKFC were in the mix for the title chase in the I league doing well in the initial phase but settling in fifth during the playoff rounds. Coach David Robertson, in his fourth season with the club, will be demanding a real chase for glory in the season ahead. There is a source of optimism from the signing of key players into the team. 

The arrival of I-League winner in the record-breaking 2019/20 season with Mohun Bagan and ISL campaigner for Bengaluru FC, Fran Gonzalez is sure to give solidity in the midfield and also an option in the center back role for his versatility. He is an expert from the spot too alongside providing several goals whatever his position might be. 

Another experienced player in Thoi Singh has been added to the rank. The former Chennaiyin FC custodian is the most reliable player on the pitch. With talisman Mason Robertson already guarding the back for the team side by side making a habit to get into the score sheet, Real Kashmir have enough leadership qualities in the squad to get them through the line. 

3) Mohammedan Sporting

The only side with familiar surroundings around, Mohammedan Sporting is dreaming of bigger things this season. After long years with no set objectives and financial troubles engulfing the legacy-driven club, MSC have revived recently with the monetary help from investor Bunker Hill and won their first CFL title after 40 years of trophy drought. Moreover, they are planning to get into the Indian Super League next season in an ambitious attempt to get back to their glory days. The Kolkata side are equally ambitious to grab the national title this time out. 

The Calcutta Football League title signaled the resurgence of the Black Panther and one of their high voltage signing, Marcus Joseph scored the winner in the final. Joseph also did the same trick previously with Gokulam in their triumph in the Durand Cup 2019. Indeed, he is a big-game player. Mohammedan have not felt shy to make changes to their squad wherever required to accelerate their achievement in the last couple of years. Their team is built on players at their prime and avoided those over the age of 30 just for the sake of experience. They also made it to the Durand Cup final this year. Manager Andrey Chernyshov is doing a dream job and it will be some tale to secure the third prize in a short period. 

2) Churchill Brothers 

The Goan club looked to be the one destined for the league win in the previous season but dropped points in key games towards the end to eventually lose the prize on the final day to Gokulam Kerala on goal difference and a better head to head difference with both locked on 29 points. It was a near miss. Nevertheless, Churchill Brothers offered some scintillating attacking football and although their defense was breached with this style of play, they were easily one of the best teams last season. Hence, preparations are in full swing for the 2021/22 campaign ahead to finally satisfy their trophy thirst of eight years. 

Churchill have brought back head coach Petre Gigiu replacing Santiago Varela from last season. The Romanian has seen three overseas arrivals in the forward department with Afdal Varikodden, Sekou Sylla and  Kenneth Ngwoke. It is evident that the priority once again falls on their key strength to attack. However, they have made an important signing in the defense with 27-year-old Shadi Skaf joining from Al Ahli. Exciting prospect Bryce Miranda is hoping to add to his talent after the 22-year-old competed in the AFC U21 qualifiers with the national team a few years back. Experienced goalkeeper Shilton Paul is  ready to guard the fortress with his reliable reflexes. If Churchill Brothers can mend the same cohesion in the squad and intensity to their play, this could be their year. 

1)  Gokulam Kerala FC

It's important for a title defending side to keep the same integrity within the squad no matter the changes undertaken for a new season. That is what defines Gokulam Kerala FC at the moment. After a thrilling campaign last time in a neck and neck battle with Churchill and TRAU on the very last matchday, Gokulam got the taste of the league title and have no issue taking another sip of it. Their spirit says so.      The club has reached enormous heights both in men's and women's football departments this year. With continental football lurking around, this season will be extra special for the Southern state club. 

Gokulam have added the required arsenal to defend their crown. One of the best shot-stoppers in the I league, Rakshit Dagar joined the team after reliable no 1 Ubaid C.K switched side to Sreenidi. Elvis Chikatara has already provided his mark by scoring 3 goals in 4 appearances in the Durand Cup 2021 and hopefully will turn out to be a pivotal figure upfront in the league. In addition to that, Emil Benny who won the emerging player award last season is on the plate to increase his stock in the campaign ahead. The 21-year-old shifted from the right-winger role to be a decisive figure in the middle of the park going on to secure their maiden I league title. With a perfect balance in the squad, GKFC are a likelier proposition to grab the I league title once again under the master eyes of Vincenzo Alberto Annese. 

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