I-League 2023-24: Five Indian players to watch out for
Alen Philip Mathew
Mohammedan SC’s David Lalhlansanga was Durand Cup 2023 Golden boot winner
As the I-League kicks off another thrilling season, football enthusiasts across India are eagerly awaiting the emergence of young talents and the standout performances of experienced players. This season promises an exciting lineup of football action, with several Indian players poised to make a significant impact. Let’s take a closer look at five Indian players to keep an eye on during the upcoming I-League season.
Saurabh Bhanwala (Namdhari Football Club)
At 23 years old, Saurabh Bhanwala, a former centre-back for Diamond Harbour in the Calcutta Football League, has found a new home with Namdhari Football Club in the I-League. Bhanwala’s journey began in the Minerva Punjab youth system, where he excelled in the U-18 I-League. His impressive performances earned him a spot in Minerva’s senior team in the I-League.
After a loan stint in the Calcutta Football League with Calcutta Customs, he returned to Minerva and played in the 2nd division I-League with Punjab II. His progress continued as he joined RoundGlass Punjab FC, where he made his professional debut in the senior I-League. Bhanwala’s talent earned him the “Defensive Action of the Season” award in the 2020-21 season. He also had spells with Rajasthan United and ARA FC in 2022-23.
David Lalhlansanga (Mohammedan SC)
David Lalhlansanga, a 21-year-old striker for Mohammedan SC, is a promising talent in the I-League. He began his career with Aizwal U18 and swiftly moved up to the main team, making nearly 30 appearances for the club. His versatility as a forward, capable of playing across the front line, makes him a valuable asset for Mohammedan. In the Durand Cup 2023, Lalhlansanga showcased his scoring prowess by netting six goals and providing an assist, earning him the Golden Boot award.
Hardik Bhatt (Rajasthan United FC)
Hardik Bhatt, a 28-year-old defender who primarily plays as a right-back but is versatile enough to feature in defensive midfield and as a right-winger, is set to make an impact with Rajasthan United FC. He embarked on his football journey with ARA FC, eventually signing for Bengaluru United and later Hyderya Sports. In the 2022-23 season, Bhatt represented Mumbai City FC in the Indian Super League, where he clinched the title. His return to Rajasthan United makes him a player to watch in the I-League.
Sreekuttan V. S. (Gokulam Kerala)
Sreekuttan Viruthiyil Santhosh, a 25-year-old forward, currently plays for Gokulam Kerala in the I-League. Known for his versatility and ability to play as a striker or on the wings, Sreekuttan’s professional journey began with FC Kerala in the 2019-20 I-League 2nd Division. After a brief stint with ARA FC in the 2020 I-League Qualifiers, he joined Kerala Blasters’ reserve side in 2020.
His performance in the Kerala Premier League earned him a promotion to the senior squad for the 2021-22 season. Sreekuttan continued to impress, helping Gokulam Kerala secure the 2021-22 I-League title. With numerous appearances and goals to his name, he remains a key player to watch in the upcoming I-League season.
Gyanmar Nikum (Inter Kashi)
Gyanmar Nikum, a 19-year-old midfielder, represents Inter Kashi in the I-League while on loan from Mumbai City FC in the Indian Super League. Hailing from Naharlagun in Arunachal Pradesh, Nikum’s football journey began at a young age. Notably, he played for Arunachal Pradesh in the U-15 sub-junior national championships at just 14. His breakthrough came when he featured in the U-18 BC Roy Trophy in 2019, catching the eye of Rajasthan United.
Nikum made history by becoming the first player from Arunachal Pradesh to participate in the I-League Qualifiers at the age of 16. In the 2021-22 season, he impressed with Rajasthan United, securing a top-seven finish and a Championship stage qualification. A subsequent transfer to Mumbai City FC established him as the most expensive transfer for a player of his age. Nikum’s return to the I-League with Inter Kashi promises exciting performances in the upcoming season.