The 2022-23 Indian Super League season saw Mumbai City FC win the league crest…actually, wait. That is underestimating it. Mumbai City FC absolutely rocked the league along the way winning the shield – few teams have dominated a season of Indian football like this one.
In the end, ATK Mohun Bagan won the cup, but the Mohun Bagan fans won an even bigger battle. Now Mohun Bagan Super Giants, the great old institution of Indian football is bigger than ever. What has been constant through all the changes, ownership issues and years gone by is that they keep showing up at the biggest matches in Indian football and inevitably… they win them.
After two years in tight biobubbles, this was a throwback season: home and away, fans in the stands, all the travel. From Kerala to Guwahati, from Jamshedpur to Goa, football was local again, and it was brilliant.
Soccer was a little more tense, a little more cautious; a reminder that the regular season in this vast country can be more grueling than in most places. The goals were still there, of course, but not as many as last season. In fact, in 2022-23 there were nine fewer goals (345 v 354) despite having two more games; but the intensity of football rarely dropped.
We saw an unprecedented 18-game unbeaten streak, we saw another wonderful 10-game winning streak. We also saw an even more remarkable phenomenon: patience among the men in suits… this time only one manager was sacked mid-season (there were four last season) and teams like Bengaluru FC and Odisha reaped rich dividends.
It was a season of drama, controversy and great football stories. We reflect, one last time, on ISL 2022-23:
This came very early in the season, but wow, was it Mumbai City 2 – 2 ATK Mohun Bagan an absolute blast. There were four goals, but it could have been ten. Both attacks were in the mood that day and kept coming; wave after wave of incessant attacks.
You would rarely have seen a more action-packed eight and a half minute highlight video than this – and they left out a lot.
It was also just one of two glimpses we saw of Bagan’s staggering firepower (the other was against the Kerala Blasters in Kochi).
The Kerala Blasters did not get a referee decision in favor and left the field of play.
Cut the flab around the argument and this is what it boils down to: there can be no rational defense of this behavior.
Kerala Blasters manager Ivan Vukomanovic plays with passion, but abandonment is a step too far
Leaving aside that the decision was perfectly legal, if teams folded every time they didn’t get a decision, we would not have football to watch. There were a lot of officiating issues throughout the season – Chennaiyin FC, for example, made an average of two bad decisions per game, and there were two pretty terrible decisions in the final – but this happens. Referees (as reiterated by Simon Grayson, the coach of the team that received those bad calls) are human. They make mistakes. The AIFF president pointed out that they would introduce VAR-lite to change things, but we have seen how VAR is not a panacea in leagues around the world.
The referees will be wrong again. Just like the players do. Just like all of us. However, what Ivan Vukomanovic and his Blasters did was an unacceptable disaster. The only lesson it served to teach was one most of us last learned on an elementary school field: Don’t leave the game until the final whistle.
The biggest what if
Still the Blasters. Still the strike. There were a minimum of 26 minutes remaining in a match that they had clearly been dominating at the time. Sahal Abdul Samad had come in and had Bengaluru FC in the toast, and it really would have been a great finish to an intense game.
best one man army
Dimitri Petratos. He had a hand in 67.9% of Bagan’s goals (12 goals, 7 assists). He scored three incredible quality penalties in the final. He was Bagan, Bagan was him.
Not far behind was the man on the other side of the maidan: Cleiton Silva’s 12 goals accounted for 54% of all the goals East Bengal have scored this season. Imagine what he could have done if he had a (fully functional, fully utilized) midfield behind him.
the biggest disappointment
Besides the Blasters losing their tie, it was how easy NorthEast United went. There will always be seasons where nothing goes your way, but a win in twenty points to a team that just gave up at the end.
PS Also, Kiyan Nassiri was relegated to the wings by Juan Ferrando for most of the season. You can understand why the manager did it, but from an individual (and national team) standpoint, the guy’s natural goal-scoring ability wasted there.
Best Character Development Arc
Lallianzuala Changte. From ‘OMG Chhangte how’ to ‘OMG Chhangte! Wow, it’s been a journey.
There is no way to stop Chhangte 2.0
Best Character Development Arc
Bengaluru FC. After 12 games he was ninth, with 10 points. Eight wins later, they had 34 and were comfortably fourth. Oh, and then they beat the unbeatable giant that was Mumbai City over two legs in their semi-final. Remarkable doesn’t quite cover it.
The secret to Bengaluru FC’s resurgence: Simon Grayson’s tinkering with a perfect 2023
There were many great contenders (Chhangte against the crossbar against Bagan, Brandon Fernandes against East Bengal, Diego Mauricio against Mumbai, Cleiton Silva against Bengaluru, anything Abdenasser El Khayati did), but a personal favorite was Adrian Luna vs Jamshedpur FC.
.@KeralaBlasters take their unbeaten run tally to 8️⃣ games when they recorded a 3️⃣-1️⃣ win against Jamshedpur FC! 🔥
Watch the full highlights! 📺#KBFCJFC #heroISL #LetsFootball #KeralaBlasters #JamshedpurFC
– Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) January 4, 2023
Nine seconds, six touches, four players: The goal was a perfect on-pitch representation of the Vukomanovic-Blasters philosophy. It was liquid football.
A lean, young Indian who starts on top (and scores) consistently for a team that reached the ISL final? Oh Sivasakthi Narayanan is the real deal.
Sivasakthi’s first ISL goal: Defensive reading, instinctive finishing and a glimpse of his potential
Honorable Mention: ATK Mohun Bagan becoming Mohun Bagan Super Giants in the dying minutes of the season. Who saw that coming?