Champions from each season of the Indian Super League: Down the lane

The winners of the inaugural edition of the ISL celebrating their win

The ninth edition of the Indian Super League is set to kick off soon with Kerala Blasters squaring off against East Bengal at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi. This season will also mark a return of fans to the stadium with the league also reverting to the home-and-away format after two seasons in a bubble. 

As we get ready for a new season of Indian football, let us go down the lane and visit the winners of the previous eight editions of the country’s top-tier league. 

#1 ATK – 2014

Kolkata-based club ATK, also known as Atletico de Kolkata won the inaugural season of the Indian Super League. The team co-owned by now BCCI president Sourav Ganguly assembled a strong squad which included the likes of two Spanish internationals Luis Garcia and Borja Fernandez who have been known from their time at Liverpool and Real Madrid respectively. The club also signed Bostowana’s Ofentse Nato, Bangladesh’s Mamunul Islam, and Ethiopian striker Fikru Teferra along with signing other foreigners from the draft.

The team finished 3rd in the league table winning four, drawing seven and losing three of 14 games and were pitted against Goa in the semi-finals. After two legs including added time, the two teams hadn’t scored a goal with the game going into penalties. ATK was able to get all four shots converted but Goa missed two, thus ATK completed a 4-2 win and advanced to the finals. 

In the finals, it looked like the game was headed into ‘Extra Time’ with both teams tied at 0-0 but midfielder Mohammed Rafique scored a near-post header from a corner in the 90+5 minutes to give ATK the crown. 

#2 Chennaiyin – 2015

Marco Materazzi’s Chennaiyin who finished the inaugural edition of the Indian Super League as semi-finalists came back stronger to finish as the champions of the 2nd edition. The Marina Machans recruited some good players in Elano Blumer, Stiven Mendoza, Mailson Alves and Bernard Mendy all of whom proved to be vital in the team’s success.

Chennaiyin had a good run in the season and finished third in the league table with 22 points from 14 matches and were pitted against defending champions ATK, whom they defeated 4-2 on aggregate.

The 2015 ISL Final was played between Goa and Chennaiyin

The 2015 ISL Final was played between Goa and Chennaiyin

In the final, Bruno Pelissari put Chennaiyin ahead but it took Haokip only four minutes to bring the Gaurs back into the game. Jofre Mateu followed it up with a goal in the 87th minute and just when it looked like Goa was going to finish victorious, Chennaiyin pushed forward putting Laxmikant Kattimani under pressure where he conceded an own-goal in the 90th minute before John Stiven Mendoza slotted one home to give the Marina Machans a 3-2 win

#3 ATK – 2016

In a repeat of 2014 final, ATK took on Kerala Blasters. The season saw a contrasting fortune for the two finalists of the previous season with Chennaiyin and Goa finishing seventh and eighth respectively.

In the semi-finals, ATK locked horns with Mumbai City who they beat 3-2 on aggregate. In the final, Mohammed Rafi put Kerala Blasters ahead before Henrique Sereno levelled it for ATK. The game finished with a 1-1 draw at the end of regular time and moved into ‘extra time’ which couldn’t decide a winner too, thus taking the final into a penalty shootout.

Iain Hume missed the opening chance for ATK but Kerala Blasters missed two with Cedric Hengbart and Elhadji Ndoye both failing to hit the target. The onus was on Jewel Raja Shaikh to score the decisive penalty and take ATK home, which he perfectly did hand ATK their second trophy.

#4 Chennaiyin –  2017-18

The fourth season of the Indian Super League saw a previous champion lift the trophy for the 2nd time. The season was also the first time ten teams took part in the league, this after the inclusion of Jamshedpur and Bengaluru.

Newcomers Bengaluru looked dominant throughout the season picking 40 points to finish on top of the table, ten clear of 2nd placed Chennaiyin. In the semi-finals, Bengaluru beat Pune City 3-1 while Chennaiyin beat Goa 4-1.

In what was an enthralling final, Sunil Chhetri gave BFC an early lead with a 9th-minute strike before Maílson Alves scored in the 17th and the 45th minute to give Chennai the lead. 

The Marina Machans tripled their lead in the 67th minute with a strike from Raphael Augusto. Miku on the other hand scored a goal for BFC in the 90+2 minute but that wasn’t enough as CFC clinched their 2nd ISL trophy. 

#5 Bengaluru –  2018-19

Bengaluru players celebrating the team’s title win

Bengaluru players celebrating the team’s title win 

Continuing their good form from the previous season, Bengaluru once again topped the league table finishing with 34 points, equal with Goa but ahead on the head-to-head record. In the semi-finals, the team beat NorthEast United 4-2 in aggregate coming back from a 2-1 loss in the 1st leg.

In the final, a 117th-minute header goal from Rahul Bheke separated the two teams, with Carles Cuadrat’s Bengaluru beating Sergio Lobera’s Goa 1-0 in an edge-of-the-seat thriller.  And with this, the Indian Super League had a new winner with two teams having won the first four editions twice each.

#6 ATK – 2019-20

The 2019-20 season was quite an interesting one as most of them had written Chennaiyin off but the team made a remarkable comeback under Owen Coyle who took over the reins from John Gregory when the team were at the rock-bottom of the table to finish as finalists. 

On the other hand, ATK had a solid season and was consistent throughout finishing in second place with 34 points. In the semi-final, the team were to square off against Bengaluru who beat them 1-0 but the team came back stronger in the 2nd leg winning the fixture 3-1.

In the finals, they faced Chennaiyin who were looking for a fairytale finish to the season, but ATK got the better of the Marina Machans. Javi Hernandez gave ATK the early lead in the 10th minute before Edu Garcia scored ATK their second early in the 2nd half. 

For Chennaiyin, Nerijus Valskis found the back of the net and the team pushed to attack to get the equalizer but that left a hole in their defense and Javi Hernandez capitalized on it to give ATK their third in the stoppage-time and thus sealing their third trophy.

#7 Mumbai City – 2020-21

The 2020-21 season was the first time a sporting event was to take place in India following the outbreak of the Coronavirus. The entire event was moved to Goa to be played inside a biosecure bubble.

Mumbai City began their campaign with a 1-0 loss over NorthEast but then went on to unbeaten in 12 games to solidify their place in the playoffs. The team ended as table toppers in the group stage with 40 points from 20 games. 

In the semis, Mumbai was up against Goa against whom they drew the first leg 2-2. In the reverse fixture, the two sides played out a goalless draw which meant penalties were to be taken to decide the winner. In the penalties, Mumbai got the better of the Gaurs 6-5 and advanced to the final.

In the finals, Mumbai was up against a newly formed club that emerged from the merger between three-time ISL winners ATK and the famous Mohun Bagan. ATK Mohun Bagan took an early lead in the finals courtesy of a goal from David Williams but an own goal from the Mariners brought the game back to even. Just when it looked like we were headed to another extra time in the knockouts, Bipin Singh’s 90th-minute strike helped the Islanders pick up their first-ever ISL title.

#8 Hyderabad – 2021-22

The most recent edition of the Indian Super League saw a new winner with a youthful Hyderabad team clinching the trophy. The Nizams finished 2nd in the league table and faced ATK Mohun Bagan in the semi-finals. 

In the 1st leg, the team picked up a comprehensive 3-1 win over their opponents before losing the reverse fixture 1-0 but a 3-2 aggregate saw them through to the final. 

Hyderabad players celebrating after being crowned ISL champions

Hyderabad players celebrating after being crowned ISL champions

In the big finale, the team were up against a 3rd-time finalist Kerala Blasters, who ended up unlucky third after losing to Hyderabad 3-1 in the penalties. Both teams fought hard in the match, with Rahul KP drawing the first blood giving KBFC the lead before Sahil Tavora fired one for Hyderabad in the 88th minute to bring the game level. 

The game continued for two halves of ‘extra-time’ but the two sides could not be separated moving into penalty shootouts. In the penalties, Laxmikant Kattimani’s brilliant four saves (including one that had to be re-taken) ensured the Nizams a win.