Colombian Stiven Mendoza remains the gold standard but a number of young foreigners are using the Indian Super League this season to get noticed.
Step forward, Carl McHugh (ATK), Martin Chaves (NorthEast United), Mislav Komorski (NorthEast United), Jose Leudo (NorthEast United), Panagoitis Triadis (NorthEast United), Jairo Rodrigues (Kerala Blasters), Nikola Krcmarevic (Kerala Blasters), Diawandou Diagne (Odisha FC), Serge Kevyn (Mumbai City FC) and Sergio Castel (Jamshedpur FC). They are in their twenties who joined ISL 6, some on long-term deals.
Then there is Mario Arques, 27, who left Jamshedpur FC for Kerala Blasters this season; Tiri, who has spent three of the last four seasons in ISL and Hugo Boumous, 24, who renewed his association with FC Goa with a new three-year deal.
“I came here on a short contract but now I feel we are building something good and I want to be part of that,” said Boumous who joined FC Goa in 2017-18.
On a two-year deal, McHugh, 26, started the season with a gorgeous left-foot volley away to Kerala Blasters. ATK lost 1-2 but coach Antonio Lopez Habas has started the Irishman, who can play central defender, central midfielder and left back.
Chaves, 21, played behind striker Asamoah Gyan. He was groomed at Montevideo’s famous club Penarol for five years before being loaned to Brazil club Gremio. Chaves signed for Juventud in Uruguay’s premier division last January before travelling to India.
McHugh joined ATK after three seasons at Motherwell in the Scottish Premiership and was with Plymouth Argyle and Bradford City in England earlier after beginning as a professional at Reading FC in 2011. Chaves has played for the Uruguay under-17 side and McHugh for Ireland’s under-17, under-19 and under-21 teams. From 28.2 in 2016 when eight teams played to 26.2 now, the average age in the ISL, helped by franchises getting younger imports, has come down.
“The season has got longer, that has probably helped. We are six months now, we were three months before and that is probably more attractive to young (foreign) players. The standard is improving and that will help attract younger players rather than those who are towards the end of their careers. I feel I am coming into the best years of my career,” said McHugh.
“I was looking for a fresh challenge that provides me with lots of game time. The ISL is broadcast in many countries and I feel there is a chance to catch the eye of bigger leagues in Asia if you perform well here. I have seen players from ISL go on to play in Ligue 1 (top tier in France) and MLS (Major League Soccer in the US) and I aspire to do the same one day,” said Chaves.
The Uruguayan was referring to Mendoza. Now with Amiens in Ligue 1, Mendoza, 27, played the first two ISL seasons — his tally of 13 goals in 16 games helping Chennaiyin FC win the title in 2015. Mendoza joined New York City FC in the USA’s Major League Soccer in 2016 and moved to the French top tier club in 2018 from Brazil’s Corinthians.
This season, Mendoza has scored four goals in four Ligue 1 games, against Bordeaux, Angers, Marseille—whom Amiens had never beaten—and St Etienne on Sunday. Here with his girlfriend, McHugh said he spoke to Scottish international Stephen Pearson, who played for ATK in 2016, before coming to Kolkata.
The initial reaction to his joining ISL was met by “surprise” and “shock” back home, he said. “(But) I felt I have just got to that stage in my career where I wanted a new experience. (This) was a big opportunity for me to go an experience a different culture. I have really enjoyed the experience and long may it continue,” said McHugh.