2016/17 Review: I-League

Technically this should be a 2017 review as the Indian I-League only runs for four months at the start of the year but the first match of the season came at the start of January so you can presume pre-season must have started in the previous year.

Football in India paints a very interesting landscape at this current moment. On one hand, domestic football matches in the country are attracting fans in their thousands, to an unprecedented level even. On the other hand, there are two conflicting leagues running, with fans restricted to two short seasons at the start and the end of the year.

Firstly there is the I-League, which has been running since 2007 and is India’s top tier football competition. It is part of the Asian Football Confederation and therefore a part of FIFA as well. Teams from the I-League compete in the AFC’s continental tournaments.

But there is also the Indian Super League. The franchise based tournament began in 2014 and has run since. This is the glamour league of India. It has had the big names like Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pires and even our very own Englishman abroad, David James. It also has the financial backing not seen in the I-League, with the franchises owned by former international cricketers, Bollywood stars and there is even investment from Atlético Madrid. However this league is not affiliated with the AFC or FIFA.

The ISL also attracts the spectators. The average attendance for the 2016 ISL was just over 21,000, with Kerala Blasters boasting an average of 49,343 and a highest attendance of nearly 55,000. Whereas the average for the I-League in 2017 was just 5,233 with a highest attendance for a single match being just over 29,000. There was even a match which only 300 fans attended.

With the ISL running from October to December, football fans in India are left without domestic action from the end of April to the start of October. This has seen India’s football governing body, the AIFF, look to combine the two leagues in the near future but this is set to be a huge headache for all involved. For starters, who gets the players? Some footballers in the country play in both leagues and the AIFF has been unclear on specifically how they plan to go about executing the combination.

Anyway back to the point, the I-League finished a few weeks back now so let’s look at the English involvement.

At the start of the season there were two English managers at the helm of clubs in the league. Firstly there was expat veteran Trevor Morgan, who has been coaching abroad for more than twenty years. The former Bournemouth and Bolton player got a taste for the overseas whilst playing in Hong Kong for Happy Valley and South China and has since gone on to manage in Australia, Singapore and India. He started the 2017 season in charge of East Bengal, returning to the club he managed for three years between 2010 and 2013. His second stint with the club ended during the 2017 season when he resigned with two games to go, leaving his side in third place.

Elsewhere there was also Dave Rogers, who was appointed as the manager of DSK Shivajians at the start of the season. The 41-year-old had a spell playing for Cambuur in Holland when was younger before going onto enjoy a successful career playing in Ireland. After working for Liverpool’s international academy for two years, Rogers was tasked with improving the fortunes of the club who finished bottom of the 2016 I-League. It is fair to say that he did that, steering his side clear from relegation, finishing 7th in the ten team league.

There was also one English player involved. Stats below include league appearances only.

John Johnson (second from the right)
John Johnson. 28. Defender. Bengaluru. Appearances: 12. Goals: 0
Middlesbrough-born defender John Johnson has been a fans favourite ever since he made the move to India in 2013. The former Northampton Town man has just completed his fourth season with Bengaluru and has been described as one of India’s best ever footballing imports.

When Johnson joined the club in 2013, after being convinced to sign by his former Northampton Town teammate Ashley Westwood, who was at the time the manager of Bengaluru, he became the first foreign player in the club’s history. Since then he has won two league titles, finished as runners-up in the AFC Cup (Asia’s equivalent to the Europa League) and also been named as the best defender in the I-League.

This season though was not Bengaluru’s finest and that coincided with Johnson making his fewest appearances in a single league season since he joined. The 28-year-old missed a third of his club’s league games as he appeared in just 12 matches. Despite that, he played for the full ninety in all of his league appearances, emphasising his importance to the club.

Johnson, who made a single Premier League appearance for his his hometown club Middlesbrough in 2008 during a 5-0 drubbing by Chelsea, also appeared five times this season in continental competition as Bengaluru failed to transfer their form in the AFC Cup to the AFC Champions League as they were knocked out in the preliminary rounds. However, they remain in the AFC Cup. 

Overall, it was a disappointing season for Johnson and his teammates as they finished the season in 4th place, seven points off the champions Aizawl. However, the defender’s experience in  India has been a largely successful one and with a year to go on his contract, the ex-Northampton Town man will be eager to regain the title for his club next season.

 

2016/17 Review: Maltese Premier League

I wasn’t sure whether to write a review on the Maltese Premier League after it finished nine days ago as (I think) only one Englishman featured in it this season but he did win the league and he was managed by a fellow Blighty expat so here it goes.

Hibernians wrapped up their 12th Maltese Premier League title after defeating St. Andrews 3-1 in their final home game back at the end of April. They then went out in style in the final game of the season as they defeated Tarxien Rainbows 6-1.

The club is managed by Englishman Mark Miller, who has been coaching in Malta since 1996, after getting his first taste of playing on the island back in 1985. The former midfielder also played for Gillingham and Doncaster Rovers, as well as having a spell playing in Finland.

Having already won the Maltese Premier League three times already, Miller was the man charger to bring the title back to Hibs after they lost their crown to Valletta in the 2015/16 season.

Miller also recruited compatriot Montell Moore back in January to aid his title push. The former Brentford man was looking for a new challenge following his release from Charlton Athletic the previous year.

Now nearly a year on from when he took over, the 54-year-old has another title in the bag and his second as the manager of Hibs, adding to the title he lifted in the 2008/09 season with the Peacocks.

Here’s a look at Moore’s involvement this season (league appearances only).

Montell Moore.

Montell Moore. 21. Forward. Hibernians. Appearances: 11. Goals: 0
Moore joined Hibernians in January 2017 after he had failed to live up to the initial promise he had shown at Brentford.

After joining the Bees at the age of 7, the winger/striker was the club’s youth team top scorer in the 2013-14 season. Following his impressive form in the youth ranks, Moore made his senior debut in August 2014 during an extraordinary League Cup first round match against Dagernham & Redbridge.

Starting the match, Moore and the rest of his teammates headed to extra time after the game finished 4-4 after 90 minutes. The debutant then scored his first ever senior goal to give his side a 5-4 lead in extra time. Three more goals followed before the Bees eventually won on penalties.

However, despite a promising start to his career in the first team, that was to be Moore’s first and only appearance for Brentford. He was released from the club in February 2016 having scored in his only senior appearance for the club.

During the time between his first appearance and his release, Moore did actually join Danish side Midtylland, who like the London club, are owned by Matthew Benham. The move was as much for his personal well being as it was for footballing reasons, as the youngster had been charged with numerous offences off the field prior to his move to Denmark. During his time in Scandanavia, he did not feature for Midtylland’s senior team but did make ten appearances across the club’s U19 and reserve sides.

Following release, he joined Charlton Athletic on a deal to the end of the season but could not force his way into the senior squad.

Then after spending the first part of the 2016/17 season without a club, Moore joined Hibernians partway through the Maltese Premier League campaign to team up with Mark Miller.

The move would see the 21-year-old finally get some more senior game time under his belt. His debut came as a substitute in a 2-2 draw against Floriana in mid-January and he would go on to make a further ten appearances, two of which were starts.

Although he failed to score during his 281 minutes of action, Moore has undoubtedly gained valuable first team experience in Malta and not many Englishmen can say they have won the title on the first season abroad in a club’s first team.

2016/17 Review: A-League

With many leagues across the world heading to their nail biting conclusions, Australia’s A-League is already done and dusted. Last Sunday saw Sydney FC defeat Melbourne Victory on penalties in the grand final to be crowned champions.

Let’s take a look at the English involvement down under this season. Stats below include league and playoff appearances only.

Joseph Mills

Joseph Mills. 27. Defender. Perth Glory. Appearances: 22. Goals: 1
Upon arriving down under, Joseph Mills called his move to A-League club Perth Glory an “opportunity he couldn’t turn down”.  Despite being only 27-years-old, the left back has been round the block in English football, having played for seven different clubs back at home. His move to Perth came following two seasons with Oldham Athletic in League One.

A product of the famed Southampton academy, Mills’ move to the Glory saw him team up with compatriot Kenny Lowe, who has managed the club since 2013. The 55-year-old had a lengthy playing career back in his homeland featuring for the likes of Barnet, Birmingham and Gateshead before spending four years as Barnet’s manager between 1999 and 2003.

Overall, the past season for Mills can be considered solid, if not groundbreaking. The Glory made the playoffs again, or the Finals Series as the Aussies refer to it as, and even went one stage further than last season, this time losing in the semi-finals to eventual winners Sydney 3-0. However he didn’t play in either of the club’s two playoff matches.

Mills himself played in 22 of the club’s 27 league games, starting 19. He also scored what was just his fourth senior league goal, albeit in a 4-1 loss away to Sydney.

In fact, Sydney were a consistent thorn in Mills’ and Perth’s side, as they also knocked the Glory out of the FFA Cup, beating them 2-0 after extra time, a game in which the former Reading defender played the full two hours.

The 27-year-old still has a year left on his contract with Perth so could be set for another season down under.

Wayne Brown

Wayne Brown. 28. Midfielder. Newcastle Jets. Appearances: 22. Goals: 2
Wayne Brown’s career path could not be more varied if he tried. After three seasons in Finland, the former Fulham youngster switched the brisk Scandinavian weather for Australia’s golden sands when he agreed to sign for Newcastle Jets.

The Jets have a history of recruiting Englishmen. Michael Bridges, Francis Jeffers and Emile Heskey have all worn the blue and red of Newcastle but unlike those who came before him, Brown was not coming towards the end of his career when he put pen to the Jets’ paper.

The midfielder’s move to the Jets came off the back of a very successful spell with SJK in Finland. In his first season with the club, his side finished as runners-up in the Veikkausliiga, the Finnish top flight. In his second season, they went one further, lifting the title. His time in Finland also saw him experience playing time in the Europa League.

It is therefore no wonder that his move to the Jets was considered a coup for one of the A-League’s perennial under performers.

Brown’s impact at his new side was immediate as he scored on both his cup and league debuts for the Jets.

However, despite becoming an integral part of the Newcastle side, Brown’s performances could not prevent his side from missing out on the playoffs again as the Jets finished bottom.

In total, he made 22 league appearances scoring twice and although the Jets under performed once again, Brown was sufficiently impressed with his time in Oz to extend his contract, adding one more year to the initial two year deal he signed.

Jamie Young (right)

Jamie Young. 31. Goalkeeper. Brisbane Roar. Appearances: 6. Clean sheets: 2
Here’s a tricky one, does Jamie Young count as an Englishman abroad? He’s represented England at various youth levels. He played in England for ten years. But he spent the first 17 years of his life in Australia and was born in Brisbane. For the purposes of simply extending this post, he counts as English.

After growing up in Australia, Young made the move to England in 2002 to join Reading. During his time with the Royals, Young appeared for England at U18, U19 and U20 level, for whom he competed in the 2005 Toulon Tournament alongside the likes of Steven Taylor, James Milner and future Englishman abroad, Bradley Wright-Phillips.

I’m not entirely sure how Young was eligible to play for England at youth level just a few years after his move to Reading but the fact that he was definitely makes him more English…

Young in England colours during the 2005 Toulon Tournament.

Anyway, after just one first team appearance in four years at the Madejski Stadium, the goalkeeper moved to Wycombe and then on to Aldershot, where he made 140 appearances in all competitions during his four seasons with the club.

Short stints in Conference South with Basingstoke, Whitehawk and Hayes & Yeading followed before Young returned down under in 2014 to play for his hometown club Brisbane Roar.

Young has now spent three seasons with the Roar and has made the playoffs in all three seasons but this year saw his opportunities severely limited. He made just four regular season appearances as his side finished third in the A-League table.

The 31-year-old however, did play in both of the Roar’s playoff games, including the first round win over Western Sydney Wanderers when he came on as as a substitute in the ninth minute of extra time. Following his introduction, Young was then pivotal to Brisbane’s victory, as he saved a crucial spot kick to secure a penalty shootout victory over the Wanderers.

The former Aldershot goalkeeper was also in net as his side lost 1-0 in the playoff semi-finals against Melbourne Victory.

2016/17 Review: Eerste Divisie

One interesting trend from the 2016/17 season involving English players abroad has been the number of English expats competing in the Netherlands this season, particularly in the second tier, known as the Eerste Divisie.

Four Englishmen have also competed in the top-tier, the Eredivisie, this season but this post is going to focus on the second division, especially now as the regular season is over.

The Eerste Divisie finished last Friday and the playoffs for promotion to the top-tier begin tonight. Ten teams in total will compete in the playoffs, eight from the second division and two from the top-tier. The teams finishing 16th and 17th in the top-tier will join in the second round alongside the four highest playoff finishers from the second division. Tonight’s games see the other four sides begin two-legged first round playoff ties. The two winners of the two third round ties later in the month will earn the right to compete in the Eredivisie next season.

There were nine Englishmen who featured in the regular season of the Eerste Divisie in 2016/17, five of which were on loan from English clubs, three from Manchester City and two from Arsenal. There was also a third loaned from Arsenal but he is yet to make an appearance but did feature lower down the pyramid.

Let’s take a look at the nine who featured plus one other… (stats are for league games only)

The NAC Breda Boys

Ashley Smith-Brown

Ashley Smith-Brown. 21. Defender. NAC Breda, on loan from Manchester City. Appearances: 29. Goals: 1
The first of four Englishmen who have featured for NAC Breda so far this season, Ashley Smith-Brown will be starting in the second round of the playoffs alongside his NAC teammates following their fifth place finish this season.

A young left back, the 21-year-old had not played a senior game before agreeing to join NAC on a season-long loan at the start of the season. The former captain of City’s U18s, he has enjoyed a successful first season of senior football, becoming a regular in defence for his adopted club. Only two of his 29 appearances this season have come from the bench and he was subbed off on just three occasions.

An additional bonus for Smith-Brown this season has been scoring his first ever senior goal, which came in only his second appearance for NAC, during a 2-1 away win over Achilles ’29 in August last year. Smith-Brown’s only ever previous goals had come whilst playing for England U19s in the UEFA U19 European Championships in 2015.

Brandon Barker

Brandon Barker. 20. Winger. NAC Breda, on loan from Manchester City. Appearances: 22. Goals: 2
The second City loanee at NAC, Barker had just five senior appearances to his name before joining the Dutch club two games into the season, four of which came in the Championship during a brief loan spell with Rotherham last season.

The England youth international has managed 22 appearances so far this season, sixteen of which were starts. The winger also managed two goals, coming in two home wins.

James Horsfield

James Horsfield. 21. Defender/midfielder. NAC Breda, on loan from Manchester City. Appearances: 16. Goals: 1
The final of Manchester City’s three loanees at NAC, Horsfield joined the Dutch club in January earlier this year. Since the move, he has become a regular in defence for NAC, having originally joined the club as a midfielder.

Horsfield, who had made just three senior appearances before the move during a loan spell with Doncaster Rovers in 2015, has made sixteen appearances since his switch to the Netherlands and also scored in the 2-0 win over Fortuna Sittard back in March. The experience he has gained in the Eerste Divisie will no doubt prove priceless and would have been a significant improvement on how the 21-year-old spent the first half of the season, where he made 12 appearances for Man City’s U23s in Premier League 2.

Fisayo Adarabioyo

Fisayo Adarabioyo. 22. Striker. NAC Breda. Appearances: 12. Goals: 1
The only one of NAC’s four Englishmen not be on loan at the club, although there is still a strong City link with Fisayou Adarabioyo. He spent last season playing for Macclesfield Town in the National League and AFC Flyde in National League North. However this season, the 22-year-old has spent the campaign in the Netherlands’ second division.

Having spent his youth career with the academies of Manchester City, Birmingham, St Johnstone and Crystal Palace, Adarabioyo finally made his senior debut in September 2015 with Macclesfield. Following just three appearances with the Silkmen, he went on to play eight minutes with Flyde later in that year before spending the rest of the 2015/16 season without a club.

Then in August 2016, following a trial with the club, the 22-year-old signed a two-year deal with NAC. Fisayo’s younger brother, Tosin, currently plays for City and has appeared twice for the Citizens in the Champions League this season.

All 12 of Fisayo’s appearances for NAC this year have come from the bench but he did manage one goal during the 4-2 victory over RKC Waalwijk back in September. As well as his 12 appearances, the striker was also an unused sub a further 12 times.

The Permanent Eindhoven Additions

Kyle De Silva

Kyle De Silva. 23. Midfielder. FC Eindhoven. Appearances: 25. Goals: 2
The former Crystal Palace midfielder is one of two Englishmen who joined Eindhoven at the start of the season. The club’s campaign for 2016/17 is now over, after they failed to make the playoffs.

De Silva spent ten years with his local club Crystal Palace, making his senior debut in January 2012. However, he would go on to make only nine more appearances for the club and following a loan spell with Barnet in 2013, the midfielder went two seasons without playing a game following a string of untimely injuries.

In 2015, he joined Notts County but after a season with the Magpies, he had made only six appearances in all competitions. Finally though this season, De Silva is starting to realise some of his potential with Eindhoven.

Having joined the club at the start of the season, the 23-year-old has made 25 appearances for the Dutch side, 17 of which were starts. He has also bagged two goals, his first ever in senior football.

Jonny Rowell

Jonny Rowell. 27. Midfielder. FC Eindhoven. Appearances: 13. Goals: 0
For those who are English players abroad connoisseurs, Jonny Rowell will be a familiar name. The former Hartlepool United midfielder spent five seasons playing in Belgium for Olympic Charleroi and Waasland-Beveren between 2010 and 2015. During that time, he made 89 league appearances, with 47 of those coming in the top-tier with Waasland.

Following a season out, Rowell joined Eindhoven before the start of this season. It has been a slow return to football for the midfielder, having managed just 13 appearances this season, with only nine of those being starts. He was also an usused substitute on a further 16 occasions.

He failed to score this season but did manage to pick up two bookings.

The Arsenal Adventurers 

Tafari Moore

Tafari Moore. 19. Defender. Jong Utrecht, on loan from Arsenal. Appearances: 26. Goals: 0
Like Man City, Arsenal have also sent youngsters to the Netherlands this season, the first of which is Tafari Moore. The 19-year-old full back initially joined Eredivisie side Utrecht two games into the season. However, the young defender has spent almost the entirety of the season with Utrecht’s second team called Jong Utrecht (jong meaning young) in the second tier.

Having previously never made a senior appearance, Moore’s season in the Eerste Divisie can be considered a huge success. He made 26 appearances, 23 of which were starts, for Jong Utrecht becoming a regular in the side’s defence. He also demonstrated excellent discipline, having not picked up single booking all season. He also made one sub appearance for the club’s first team in the Eredivisie back in September.

Moore’s season is now over as his side finished 18th in the second tier but would have been ineligible for the playoffs anyway as he was playing for a reserve side.

Stefan O’Connor

Stefan O’Connor. 20. Defender. MVV Maastricht, on loan from Arsenal. Appearances: 4. Goals: 0
It’s fair to say that Stefan O’Connor’s loan spell to MVV Maastricht was not a success. The young defender managed just four sub appearances all season, with those four appearances totalling less than four minutes as all four came in stoppage time. He was also an unused substitute on 14 occasions.

Having made his first team debut for Arsenal in the Champions League in 2014 and after spending time on loan with York City in 2015/16, more was expected from O’Connor’s loan spell in the Netherlands.

The defender, who has previously featured for England U17s, is now expected to leave the Gunners over the summer, after his loan deal in the Netherlands was cut short.

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Aaron Eyoma

Aaron Eyoma. 19. Midfielder. Jong Volendam, on loan from Arsenal. Appearances: 6. Goals: 1
The final Arsenal youngster who has spent time in the Netherlands this year is midfielder Aaron Eyoma. Having made just one appearance for Arsenal U23s and one for Arsenal U19s in the first half of the season, the 19-year-old joined Volendam at the end of January.

Now at the end of the regular season, the defender failed to gain any game time with the first team, which finished the season in sixth place in the Eertse Divisie. However, he did make six appearances for the club’s Jong side which play in the country’s fourth tier. This included one start and one goal as Jong Volendam finished the season in 6th place.

The Returner

Andrew Driver

Andrew Driver. 29. Midfielder. De Graafschap. Appearances: 33. Goals: 0
It was a disappointing season all round for Andrew Driver. The oldest player on this list and the only one who played for the club this season who he also played for last season, the 29-year-old midfielder was looking to bounce back following relegation from the top-tier with De Graafschap last season. Despite being a regular in the side, starting all but six league games this season, his side managed to finish only 12th and missed out on the playoffs.

The former Hearts player had previously played abroad for Houston Dynamo, where he made 65 appearances in two seasons with the MLS club between 2013 and 2014. After that, a brief spell with Aberdeen followed before he joined De Graafschap in 2015.

This year, he failed to score in any of his 33 appearances as his side finished disappointingly in midtable.