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Famous players in ISL: Global superstars who have played in India

In its early years, famous players in ISL took Indian football by storm and attracted plenty of eyeballs all over India. The Indian Super League was officially launched by IMG Reliance, Star Sports, and All India Football Federation (AIFF) in October 2013. The competition was formally expected to begin from September 2014.

Bidding was conducted for eight Indian Super League teams to represent the various states of India and it attracted plenty of interest from Bollywood stars as well as other celebrities and industrialists in the country.

Eventually, the teams were revealed to be Atletico de Kolkata (in collaboration with Spain’s Atletico de Madrid), Chennaiyin FC, Delhi Dynamos, FC Goa, Kerala Blasters, Mumbai City FC, NorthEast United, and Pune City. Cricket superstars Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar won the bids for Kolkata and Kerala. Bollywood celebrities John Abraham, Ranbir Kapoor, and Salman Khan invested in NorthEast United FC, Mumbai City FC, and FC Pune City respectively.

The original marquee players for the inaugural season of the Indian Super League were Luis Garcia, Elano, Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pires, David James, Freddie Ljunberg, Joan Capdevila and David Trezeguet.

Indian football fans had never expected to see most of these big names playing here but clubs originally insisted on signing marquee players in order to boost the popularity of the league and give it a headstart from the word go. The notion of such World Cup and Champions League-winning players playing in India was simply unfathomable at one point.

Therefore, whenever these players wore their respective team’s jerseys and set foot on the pitch, the stands would be filled with hordes of people queuing to watch them play. Many such marquee players were in the swansong in their careers and playing in the ISL was a farewell act for them.

In this list, we’ll talk about the most famous players in ISL history and which clubs they played for.

Famous players in ISL: Top 10 list

Player Years in India Teams
Roberto Carlos 2015 – 16 Delhi Dynamos
Robert Pires 2014 – 15 FC Goa
Diego Forlan 2016 Mumbai City FC
Alessandro Del Piero 2014 Delhi Dynamos
Nicolas Anelka 2014 – 15 Mumbai City FC
Dimitar Berbatov 2017 – 18 Kerala Blasters
David Trezeguet 2014 FC Pune City
Lucio 2015 – 16 FC Goa
Luis Garcia 2014 Atletico de Kolkata
Elano 2014 Chennaiyin

Roberto Carlos

There isn’t a football fan in the country who hasn’t heard the name of Roberto Carlos. A legendary left-back for Brazil, his exploits with Real Madrid are mind-boggling. He was an integral part of the Galacticos setup along with the likes of Iker Casillas, Fabio Cannavaro, David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Raul, and Ronaldo. He won four La Liga titles and three UEFA Champions League trophies with the club from the Spanish capital.

He was also part of the Brazil squad that won the 2022 FIFA World Cup and he has also lifted the Copa America. It goes without saying that he’s one of the prominent names in world football who left his mark in India and his arrival in 2015 was greeted with plenty of excitement.

Roberto Carlos was signed by the erstwhile franchise known as Delhi Dynamos in order to replace Alessandro Del Piero. He not only came in as a marquee player but was also the team’s head coach. The Brazilian had an instant impact and had a successful season with the side as he led them to the semi-finals. On the pitch, however, he played only three matches and couldn’t make a big impact because of his lack of fitness at that late stage of his career.

Robert Pires

Robert Pires is quite famous for being a part of Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles in 2003-04. He formed a wonderful partnership with one of the all-time greats in the Premier League, Thierry Henry and led Arsenal to a title without a single defeat over the course of the season.

Pires came out of retirement to join FC Goa as the marquee player in the inaugural season of the Indian Super League. The former World Cup winner played eight times during the course of the season but his performances weren’t exactly eye-catching and he managed to score only once.

Diego Forlan

The legendary Uruguayan forward Diego Forlan first made waves with his performances during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa where he also won the Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament. Forlan finished as the joint highest scorer in the tournament with five goals as Uruguay reached the semi-finals of the competition. He also propelled his country to Copa America victory in 2011.

The Uruguayan had also won the Golden Boot during his career and had also achieved successes with Manchester United and especially, Atletico Madrid in Spain. He signed for Mumbai City FC in the third edition of the Indian Super League. Across 12 matches, he found the back of the net on five occasions and helped them qualify for the semi-finals for the first time as they finished the league stage on top of the table.

Alessandro Del Piero

Part of Italy’s World Cup-winning squad in 2006, Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero graced football fans in India with his presence in the very season of the ISL. He belonged to the inaugural class of marquee players and was signed by Delhi Dynamos.

A prolific goalscorer, Alessandro Del Piero was the Serie A Italian Footballer of the Year in 1998 and 2008 and also received multiple Ballon d’Or and FIFA World Player of the Year nominations during his career. He is the second-highest Italian goal-scorer across all competitions and has also won the UEFA Champions League and FIFA World Cup.

However, he had an unspectacular tenure in India with Delhi Dynamos. He made 10 appearances that year but only scored a single goal, although it did come from a spectacular free-kick. Delhi finished fifth and missed playoffs by a narrow margin. He’s reportedly the highest-paid player in the history of Indian football. Del Piero announced his retirement from football the following year.

Nicolas Anelka

Former French international Nicolas Anelka was a classy and lethal striker who played for several of Europe’s top clubs – Chelsea, Real Madrid, Paris Saint Germain, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool. Although controversial, especially following his involvement in the rebellion of the French national team during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Anelka drew plenty of eyeballs when he spent the last years of his career with Mumbai City FC from 2014 to 15.

In his first season, he scored two goals having played seven matches as the Islanders finished seventh in the table and failed to qualify for the playoffs. He returned the following season as a player-manager. Both Carlos and Nicolas Anelka also served as head coaches for their respective sides in the ISL that season.

Dimitar Berbatov

The former Manchester United forward was one of the greatest controllers of the ball in recent memory and had a first touch to die for. Captain of the Bulgarian national team for four years between 2006 and 2010, Berbatov is regarded as one of the greatest players from his country and he achieved plenty of success with the Red Devils. Due to Manchester United’s immense popularity in India, Berbatov is one of the most famous players in ISL.

He won a couple of Premier League titles with Manchester United and also finished as runners-up in the UEFA Champions League twice, losing to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona on both occasions. Berbatov also played for Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League.

The marquee signed by Kerala Blasters FC in 2017, Berbatov had an odd time playing in India. He scored only a single goal in nine matches. He was used as a substitute and even in defensive midfield instead of his natural position upfront and Berbatov later criticized then-manager David James’ ‘absurd tactics.’ The stint in India was his final one before he retired from football.

David Trezeguet

Juventus and France football legend David Trezeguet is a renowned striker who found plenty of success in Italy and with the international team. He was a part of the 1998 World Cup-winning France team and he also helped Les Bleus clinic the European Championship in 2000. Trezeguet is also the fourth-highest goal-scorer in the history of Juventus and has won a couple of Serie A titles.

He played for FC Pune City in the Indian Super League in 2014 and scored two goals in eight matches for them before deciding to retire from football in January 2015.


Lucio was on top of the list when it comes to Brazilian marquee players in the Indian Super League. Delhi Dynamos and FC Goa continued the trend of signing former internationals after bringing Roberto Carlos and Lucio as their marquee signings respectively. At his peak, he was one of the best defenders in the world and played for several reputed European heavyweights like Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, and Juventus.

He won the UEFA Champions League with Inter Milan in 2010 as they lifted an unprecedented treble. Lucio was also included in the Brazilian squad that won the 2002 FIFA World Cup and he also won the FIFA Confederations Cup in 2005 and 2009.

He spent two years with FC Goa and partnered with Brazilian legend Zico in order to execute his instructions on the pitch. The two seasons were quite contrasting. While Lucio played a key role in the Gaurs’ run to the final in his maiden season, he was unable to prevent them from finishing at the bottom of the table in the following season.

Luis Garcia

Atlético de Kolkata decided to sign former Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Liverpool striker Luis Garcia as their marquee player for the very first season of the Indian Super League. He was the first marquee announced by a team in the newly-formed ISL. Garcia, a former Champions League, and FA Cup winner, came out of retirement to join the new Indian Super League and ply his trade for Kolkata.

The move paid off as in his very first season, the Spaniard recorded important contributions as Atletico de Kolkata became the inaugural champions of the newly-formed league.

Elano Blumer

Of all the names mentioned in this list, Elano might not be the most high-profile but he is one who had a massive impact on the Indian Super League as a player. He was the marquee signing for Chennaiyin FC in their first season in the league and the former Manchester City player lived up to the reputation and played extremely well during his two seasons in India.

With a penchant for scoring free kicks, Elano finished as the top scorer in the league in 2014 with eight goals under his belt. He also recorded four goals and produced four assists in his second season 2015 as he led Chennaiyin to their first-ever ISL triumph. On the back of his incredible exploits, he will always be remembered fondly by the Marina Machans even though he may not have been one of the most famous players in ISL.

Famous players in ISL: Indian players

Player Age Teams played for in ISL
Sunil Chhetri 37 Bengaluru FC and Mumbai City FC
Sandesh Jhingan 28 Kerala Blasters and ATK Mohun Bagan
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu 30 Bengaluru FC
Sahal Abdul Samad 25 Kerala Blasters
Brandon Fernandes 27 FC Goa

Notable Mentions

Chennaiyin FC enjoyed World Cup winner Marco Materazzi as a player and later as a manager. Portugal international Helder Postiga replaced Luis Garcia at Atletico de Kolkata but had an injury-ravaged campaign. NorthEast United signed Spain’s World Cup winner Joan Capdevila in the first season of ISL while Australian legend Tim Cahill played for Jamshedpur FC and is one of the most famous players in ISL. Premier League winner Freddie Ljunberg also played for Mumbai City FC while Ghanaian legend Asamoah Gyan spent a year with NorthEast United FC.


Who are the best players in ISL history?

Ferran Corominas, Sunil Chhetri, and Iain Hume are regarded as the best players in ISL history.

Who is the most expensive player in ISL history?

Alessandro Del Piero commanded nearly Rs 10.8 crores and is regarded as the most expensive player in ISL history. Del Piero didn’t have a big impact though as he scored only a single goal in 10 matches.

Which Premier League players have played in ISL?

Several top players like Robert Pires, Freddie Ljunberg, Nicolas Anelka, Elano, Diego Forlan, Dimitar Berbatov, Tim Cahill and Luis Garcia have played in the Premier League and have also played in the ISL.

What is the average salary of ISL players?

The average salary of ISL players is around Rs 30 to 40 lakhs per annum.

Who are the best players in ISL 2020-21?

Roy Krishna and Hugo Boumous were the best players in ISL 2020-21.


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