A whole host of established stars may have departed for the greener pastures of the ISL, but that only means a more prominent role for emerging talent.
The 2017-18 I-League season kicks off from the 25th of this month with Minerva Punjab locking horns with Mohun Bagan in the first match of the league. With the tournament set to run parallelly with the ongoing ISL, it will be shorn of many of the country’s top talent, with them choosing to play in the cash-rich, franchisee based tournament over the I-League. Though the I-League would miss the presence of some of the upcoming Indian talents that could have lit up the tournament, there are yet quite a few, who can be the next big thing in country’s footballing landscape. We will take a look at 5 of them
Samuel Lalmuanpuia (Forward, Shillong Lajong FC)
This Mizo lad is a special talent, at just 19 years of age, he is already of the most important players in the team. He was a regular feature in Lajong’s campaign in the I-League last season, appearing in 14 games and scoring 3 times. He once held the envious distinction of being the youngest player ever to score in the I-League, when he did so against Aizawl FC in the 2015-16 season at just 17 years and 9 months, his record has since been broken by Baoringdao Bodo last season.
Samuela, as he is known among his teammates, was in imperious form in this year’s Shillong Premier League, scoring 11 goals from 14 games and emerging as the tournament’s top scorer. Gifted with great technical ability, he also has a wand of a right foot, capable of scoring spectacular goals from long ranges. He’s also a dangerous customer from free-kicks, building a reputation for himself as a dead ball specialist. Lajong have been hit hard by the mass exodus of their home-grown youngsters to the ISL this season, in their absence, a lot of the team’s hopes rest on the young shoulders of Samuela.
Chesterpaul Lyngdoh (Midfielder, Mohun Bagan)
This diminutive winger was a fixture in the Churchill Brothers line-up last term, starting 14 games and scoring 3 important goals. Chesterpaul joins forces with Churchill teammate Ansumana Kromah at Mohun Bagan, bolstering their attacking options significantly. The 20-year-old from Meghalaya has had a good start to life at the Mariners, with some impressive showings in this year’s Calcutta Premier League (CFL), he marked his arrival in the opening game of the CFL by registering two assists. He then followed it up with a man-of-the-match performance against Railway FC scoring a blinder in the game.
Chesterpaul Lyngdoh goals 2016-17 I-League
Very quick with the ball at his feet, Chesterpaul can prove to be a handful to opposition fullbacks with his speed and guile, he also packs the composure of a seasoned striker in front of goal. Coach Sanjoy Sen would look to use this new weapon of his against teams that play a high defensive line or as a substitute to wreak havoc upon tiring defences.
Lalramchullova (Defender, East Bengal)
This 21-year-old was one of the mainstays in Aizawl FC’s defence racking up 30 appearances for the north-east based team in the last two I-League seasons, including their glorious title run in the 2016-17 tournament. Khalid Jamil, who oversaw Aizawl FC’s title triumph last season, knew the worth of this hard-working lad and brought him along with to East Bengal as he bids to secure the I-League crown, a trophy that has eluded the Red and Golds since 2003.
Primarily a full-back who can operate on both the flanks, his versatility enables him to fill in at centre-back as well. Chullova possesses great positional sense and is rarely caught out by opposition wingers, he also makes intelligent overlapping runs forward to help his team offensively; a necessary trait in modern-day full-backs. The diminutive Mizo professional would have the confidence of the coach, as he seeks to become an important player in his new club.
Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem (Goalkeeper, Indian Arrows)
The poster-boy from India’s adventure at the recently concluded U-17 FIFA World Cup, India’s find of the tournament, the “Manipuri Saviour” Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem will be a part of the Indian Arrows (erstwhile Pailan Arrows), a team comprising of the players from India’s U-17 and U-19 sides. AIFF’s decision to put these youngsters against the big boys of the I-League is to ensure that team stays together and that they get regular playing time, something that can’t be guaranteed in the cash-heavy ISL.
Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem – The Manipuri Saviour
Dheeraj’s performances between the sticks at the World Cup caught everyone’s eye, and he was easily India’s best player, particularly his heroics against USA and Columbia that ensured the home team lost by a respectable margin. Though he still needs to improve a lot and is far from being a finished product, participation in the I-League provides him and the other boys vital game time at the top level, something that is very important at this stage of their development.
Alen Deory (Winger, Shillong Lajong)
Once the top property of Indian football, Alen Deory will play for the Shillong outfit after going unsold in the ISL draft a few months ago. Deory started his career when he joined the football program of the Sports Authority of India in Assam, further proceeding to Florida to join the IMG Academy on a Reliance scholarship.
Alen Deory Goal for India U-23 in AFC U-23 Championship Qualifiers ( @0:22 Seconds)
Named after one of the greatest players of the Premier League era Alan Shearer, Deory has represented India at various age levels and also was named on the bench in the senior team’s recent Asian Cup qualification match against Myanmar, he also has the experience of two loan stints for the NorthEast United FC in the ISL. The winger’s main strengths are his raw pace, powerful running, technical dribbling and robustness that defies his age. Despite his potential, the Assamese lad is yet to mark in domestic football, but come this season he would be gunning to overturn this trend.