Reshuffles & Returns: Old and new faces ready to take stage in Hero IWL

NEW DELHI: With the Hero Indian Women’s League (IWL) set to kick off on April 26, attention has shifted not just towards the 12 teams that will take part in this year’s edition, but also their team composition. Predictably, a year-long gap between seasons has meant reshaping of squads, and the entries of many new clubs have also led to some surprising shifts in terms of personnel.

Perhaps the biggest shake-up — and also the biggest cause of all shake ups — is the entry of Odisha FC. The ISL outfit’s women’s team have been catching eyeballs off the pitch for the numerous big names they have signed to be part of the squad.

In addition to signing local stars Pyari Xaxa and Manisa Panna early last year, Odisha have also gone on to sign India internationals Sweety Devi, Karthika Angamuthu, Anju Tamang and Shreya Hooda. The biggest signing though, was saved for last, when they landed striker Bala Devi earlier this year.

Bala’s signing has understandably marked Odisha among the favourites even before a ball is kicked. The Manipuri stalwart will make a return to the Hero IWL after spending one season away and is among a few others to do so.

Another big name returning to the top division of women’s football after a brief absence is Indian midfielder Indumathi Kathiresan. Indumathi was last part of the Hero IWL in the colours of Sethu FC, when they won the title in the 2018-19 season. This season, she has shifted allegiances across the border to be part of the defending champions Gokulam Kerala’s formidable squad.

In addition to Indumathi, Gokulam have also signed youngster Hemam Shilky Devi for the season — one of the few new faces in a settled and experienced squad. Shilky, who was hugely influential in midfield for India in the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifiers Round 1, is a strong addition to a burgeoning Gokulam midfield.

Another player who will make her way back to the Hero IWL after missing out last year is right-back Dalima Chhibber. Chhibber was part of Gokulam’s title-winning team in 2019-20 and missed the season when she was playing in Canada. She returns to the league this season and will be donning the colours of Kickstart FC, the Bengaluru outfit who finished third last season. In addition to Chhibber, Kickstart have also signed Young Tigresses Shubhangi Singh, Astam Oraon and Babina Devi for the season.

Sethu Madurai FC, a perennial title contender have moved in a different direction this season, choosing to put their faith in youthful vibrancy and hunger in their search for the title. The club from Tamil Nadu have signed many Young Tigresses, which include Apurna Narzary, Sumati Kumari, Kajol D’Souza and Gladys Zonunsangi. It is an approach that focuses more on long term results than immediate dividends and may well turn out to be the coup of the Hero IWL.

Aside from these four, the season will also see many new clubs battling in the elite league, and many India internationals scattered across the clubs, hoping to add their own experience to the squad. The ever-formidable Eastern Sporting Union will have the services of goalkeeper Elangbam Panthoi Chanu, in addition to the returning Yumnam Kamala Devi. Kamala, who retired from international football after the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, will hope to show the credentials that have marked her out as one of the special few in the women’s game.

Also ReadOdisha and NorthEast United face off in historic Hero Super Cup semi-final

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