ISL 2022-23: ESPN’s Team of the Season
The 2022-23 edition of the Indian Super League came to a thrilling conclusion with ATK Mohun Bagan crowned champions while Mumbai City were the League Shield winners. Naturally, it’s that time of the year where awards are handed out and here is ESPN India’s Team of the Season.
There were plenty of deserving candidates this year; whittling them down to a starting XI and ISL’s nine substitutes with the 4+2 foreigner rule in place was a difficult task. We’ve opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation given the personnel involved. Curiously, only two of the 2021-22 Team of the Season have retained their spots — pointing to the new stars that have grabbed the spotlight this year.
Goalkeeper: Vishal Kaith (ATK Mohun Bagan)
In an unusually excellent season for goalkeepers, Vishal Kaith stood tall. Literally. There were 60 clean sheets kept in the entire league and Kaith grabbed 12 of them (20%) to win the Golden Glove. His penalty-saving heroics were crucial in ATKMB reaching the final, and then winning it. The numbers simply back up Kaith’s selection — he had the second-best save percentage (78.2%) from 68 saves, although Gurmeet Singh‘s higher save percentage came from only 39 saves. Phurba Lachenpa and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu also had excellent seasons, but Kaith’s difference-making abilities earn him the nod.
Right-back: Ashish Rai (ATK Mohun Bagan)
ATK Mohun Bagan earned 12 clean sheets this season, and Ashish Rai was involved in every single one, only missing 23 minutes of the 1110 minutes spent without conceding. For a player who made his bones in an attacking fullback role for Hyderabad, Rai’s transformation into a crucial cog of Juan Ferrando’s defensive setup was impressive. He made the most interceptions in the league this season (51) — underlining his defensive nous. The likes of Prabir Das and Rahul Bheke had excellent seasons as well, but Rai’s consistency was the deciding factor in his selection.
Centre-back: Odei Onaindia (Hyderabad FC)
In the one game Odei Onaindia missed for Hyderabad FC this year, the club conceded 19% of the goals they let in all season long. Onaindia commanded Hyderabad’s defence with aplomb since his return, while also making the second most clearances in the league (95, Sandesh Jhingan with a scarcely-believable 163). No wonder then, that even with a makeshift right-back in Nikhil Poojari and changing partners like Nim Dorjee and Chinglensana Singh, the Onaindia-led defence kept out the league’s best with ease.
Centre-back: Mehtab Singh (Mumbai City FC)
Mumbai City’s style of football often left their defenders with a fair bit to do, but Mehtab Singh was a crucial part of their defensive improvement that spurred them on to win the League Shield. A front-foot defender, Mehtab led the league in blocking shots (24) but was also pivotal to Mumbai playing out from the back, with the 24-year-old averaging almost 60 accurate passes per game. Pritam Kotal and Jhingan also had spells of excellence, but Mehtab’s ever-present nature despite the changing backline of the league shield winners, earned him the nod.
Left-back: Naorem Roshan Singh (Bengaluru FC)
There wasn’t any sophomore slump for Roshan Singh after the heights of last season. BFC’s diminutive left-back was one of the few positives in their terrible run to start the season, and then a crucial part of the reason why the club reached the ISL final. Roshan made the second-most assists by a defender this season (behind Aakash Sangwan of Chennaiyin FC), but given he had to shoulder attacking and defensive responsibilities in a wing-back role by himself, it’s arguably more impressive.
Central midfielder: Apuia (Mumbai City FC)
Not many midfielders in the league can outshine Ahmed Jahouh, but Apuia passed better (84.6 % pass accuracy vs. 81.3%), tackled better (75.8% tackle success vs 61.6%) and incredibly, connected with more long balls (76.7% vs 66.7%) over the course of the season. The 22-year-old’s metronomic displays in the heart of Mumbai’s midfield were a crucial part of their title-winning campaign, and if that wasn’t enough, Apuia added a goal-threat to his game. He’s the most complete Indian midfielder right now, and it isn’t close.
Central midfielder: Rohit Kumar (Bengaluru FC)
The ISL does love a comeback story — and Rohit Kumar certainly is one. A bit-part player at Kerala Blasters before and even BFC last year, Rohit proved to be a spark that turned around Simon Grayson’s fortunes. His shift to a box-to-box role in BFC’s 3-5-2 was crucial in their 10-game winning run that saw them reach the final. His unmatched engine saw him protect the defence and bomb forward to score crucial goals in equal measure, the archetypical #8.
Right winger: Adrian Luna (Kerala Blasters FC)
In a year where Kerala Blasters had a bit of an upheaval in their forward line, Adrian Luna’s constant presence proved pivotal, as he was the glue behind their playoff push. It’s a pity that his season ended in controversy, especially when he offered up moments of genius, capped off by the arguably the best team goal the ISL has ever seen. His assisting prowess remained spectacular, with his xA (4.2) bettered only by Greg Stewart (4.7) and Dimi Petratos (4.6) in the league.
Central attacking midfielder: Greg Stewart (Mumbai City FC)
From last season’s team-of-the-season piece: ‘Stewart’s penchant for an unstoppable dribble, a long-range screamer, or even a delicate assist makes him an unpredictable weapon that simply cannot be stopped.’ Nothing’s changed, Stewart remains as devastating as ever and Mumbai City delighted in his 16 goal contributions en route winning the title. Simply put, Stewart is magic.
Left winger: Lallianzuala Chhangte (Mumbai City FC)
The ISL’s Player of the Season.
Need we say more?
Centre-forward: Dimi Petratos (ATK Mohun Bagan)
Dimi Petratos is, quite literally, the entire reason ATK Mohun Bagan emerged as winners of the ISL. Football is a team sport, aye, but Petratos carried his team, with the most goal contributions in the league (19), an unmatched xG+xA total (12.5) as well as countless clutch moments — including three unstoppable penalties in the final. Jorge Pereyra Diaz, Diego Mauricio and Cleiton Silva also had stellar seasons leading the line, but none could come close to Petratos’ ability to make it count when it mattered.
(One goalkeeper, three defenders, two midfielders, three forwards — only two overseas players) Phurba Lachenpa (Mumbai City FC), Sandesh Jhingan (Bengaluru FC), Pritam Kotal (ATK Mohun Bagan), Akash Mishra (Hyderabad FC), Hugo Boumous (ATK Mohun Bagan), Naorem Mahesh Singh (East Bengal FC), Sivasakthi Narayanan (Bengaluru FC), Jorge Pereyra Diaz (Mumbai City FC), Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru FC).
Manager of the Season: Des Buckingham (Mumbai City FC)
A very close run battle this, with Simon Grayson’s inspiring turnaround of Bengaluru FC, Manolo Marquez’ resource-maximising season of Hyderabad FC and Ferrando’s title-winning campaign of ATK Mohun Bagan all in the running as well. Yet, for Mumbai City’s record-breaking romp to the league shield title, Des Buckingham takes the crown. It’s easy to forget that Mumbai City finished fifth last season, with Buckingham yet to implement his style of functioning at the club. He was aided by a recruitment spree, aye, but the improvement of every single player at the club is quite visible. If Indian football aims to make a dent at the Asian level, Mumbai City are their best bet — and the reason for much of it is the man at the helm.