Turning Back Time: What if Indian Legends Could’ve Played in the Indian Super League?

As the 2020 edition of the Indian Super League continues to gather steam in Goa, an interesting question has snaked its way into our minds. Something you may have thought of too as the world of sports has been revolutionized by tech and fitness advancements in the last decade.

A question which opens up innumerable possibilities of thought— Unless we somehow get our hands on Doctor Strange’s Time-Stone, then we could turn them into reality. It’s a simple question really, but one which cannot be answered without taking a trip down memory lane.

What if Indian Legends Could’ve Played in the Indian Super League?

Interesting question, isn’t it? Just thinking of the Black Pearl tearing down defences for Kerala, or the Sikkimese Spiner teaming up with Chhetri, sends a shiver down our collective spines. A number of Indian legends could have done so much more, surpassed their limits, if only the sport had the same focus on health, fitness, diet and training with a base in analysis.

Well, we can’t turn back time, but we sure can imagine what could’ve been, and this is the story the time-stone tells:

I.M. Vijayan

Any discussion about Indian footballing legends cannot happen without mentioning I.M. Vijayan. Known for scoring one of the fastest goals in an international game (within 12 seconds), the Black Pearl was a sight to behold. Trampling defenders in his weak, the man possessed silky footwork along with a cracking shot. The man began as a soda-seller and eventually became the best striker of his generation, passing on his knowledge to a growing Bhaichung Bhutia. Known for his calm demeanour off-field, the man was an aggressive phenom on it, and his style of play interested suitors from the rest of Asia too.

Sadly, most of his plays are only available to the current-gen via frizzy YouTube clips and compilations.

But can you imagine the big man playing in the Indian Super League? The Manjappada would have gone bonkers. Kerala would not have had to worry about any goalscoring woes. Their adept midfield would’ve had arguably the best finisher in Indian football. The streets would have rung with chants and applause and the city – nay, the state – would’ve been a bulwark against the usual dominance enjoyed by the Bengali sides.

As for playing on despite an excruciating injury which needed arthroscopy, that would hopefully not have happened, and a long career would’ve been longer.

Bhaichung Bhutia

Bhaichung Bhutia’s name is written in red and gold over the land. The Sikkimese sensation came to prominence when a scout saw him perform a bicycle kick on a rainy field at sixteen, and since then, there was no looking back for the diminutive forward.

From plying his trade for FC Bury in England, to a stint with the Kansas City Wizards in the MLS, Indian football’s modern revolution can be traced back to Bhaichung’s heroics across the field of green. If not for convoluted visa rules, he would have been a surefire started in England, and his swansong was a moment of primal fear for every football fan in the country—until Sunil Chhetri came forth to take the reins and took us further ahead.

But Bhaichung is someone whose legend resonates with all of us. He was the one. And though he achieved a lot over the course of his career, he was always the one who could’ve done so much more. Gone even further beyond.

If he would’ve played in the Indian Super League, one thinks of a budding partnership being formed with Sunil Chhetri and the two dominating the league and scoring for fun.

But we shouldn’t forget his roots. The romance of home.

Bhaichung leading North-East United FC would have definitely helped them drop the tag of a perennial bottom-table team. His presence would’ve galvanised the team, the fans, and it could have even had far-off socio-cultural implications across a land which is quite different, despite the tag ‘United‘ in the name.

The Indian captain leading the team from the North-Eastern corridor could’ve done a lot for the mainlanders relationship with the Seven Sisters. We wouldn’t be surprised if he took them to the title either.

Renedy Singh

A dead-ball specialist who could pick a lock with his cultured left foot, Renedy Singh was the rare breed of ambidextrous player who when he hit a ball, it stayed hit. The man could dribble and had a bullet of a shot which made him a mainstay of the Indian team even when his club form wasn’t the greatest. His set-piece ability and propensity to cross with both feet meant he played a deciding role in the crazy Kolkata derbies even though he wasn’t a regular starter in a season riddled with injuries.

Due to this, the advancements of the past ten years would’ve possibly helped Renedy Singh the most.

The sight of the tall Imphalu striker striding down the wings in peak health putting in the final ball for Bhaichung to finish for NEUFC is the stuff of dreams—Unless you’re the opposing goalkeeper. Slaloming runs, long shots, direct free-kicks, the stark winger would’ve made the position his own and made wing-play cool again. Yep, the Highlanders would’ve definitely won a title or two with him and Bhaichung at the helm.

Shabbir Ali

This one’s cheating. After all, Shabbir Ali’s legend stands strong across the sphere of Indian football. The man has been there, done that. His story is written in stone. He’s done it as a player, he’s done it as a manager.

Victory at the Asian Youth Championships in 1974 was followed by a 35-minute hattrick, the fastest by an Indian international, against Indonesia. To find players with more accolades, you need to go back further in time, where history and recollections become fuzzy. So, we’ll stop at Shabbir.

Skill, finesse, tactical nous and leadership ability, Shabbir was a guy who had it all, it wouldn’t be remiss to think that the man would have been a force of nature for any club in the ISL. His loyalties swung from Mumbai to East Bengal, making an already terrifying club an even more dangerous prospect for any opponent to face. The thought of him dovetailing with Jeje and CK Vineeth is a salivating prospect, because he had the ability to bring the best out of his team-mates. With Shabbir, you wouldn’t just have gotten a top striker, you’d have gotten an entire package, the kind of player who improves the team on his own, the one who coaches love to field and hate to play against.

Maybe looking back in time is nothing but an exercise in nostalgia, but perhaps these stories can inspire the next generation of players, and soon, we won’t have to look back anymore.

We’ll be too busy looking forward.


Pritesh Patil

Purveyor of stories, hope and rebellions. Often found exploring the nooks and crannies of the city searching for adventures and gaps between worlds. You can find him on Twitter as @TheQuillseeker.

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