The following players excelled for their respective clubs in the league.
It was yet another breathtaking season of the I-League, which just cannot stop giving Indian football fans with final day thrillers. This time it was again new champions, as Gokulam Kerala clinched their maiden title. Indeed, the fans got to witness some exciting Indian talents, who can become household names in a couple of years.
In a season filled with uncertainty and thrills, here are the players who made the most of their opportunities:
Goalkeeper: Mithun Samanta (Real Kashmir)
The Real Kashmir custodian has gone under the radar yet again this season. His top-class performances with TRAU FC meant that the Snow Leopards did not waste any time to snap him up. Samanta has exceptional reflexes and he bailed out David Robertson’s men on multiple occasions. His big frame also allows him to dominate in the air during set-pieces.
Had it not been for his injury, the 28-yea old would have given a tough fight to RoundGlass Punjab’s Kiran ChemJong for the Best Goalkeeper award. With four clean-sheets and numerous saves, the Real Kashmir custodian had a stellar I-League season.
Right-Back: Sebastian Thangmuansang (Gokulam Kerala)
The former FC Pune City full-back was one of the important sources of attack for Gokulam Kerala this season. Sebastian has been a mainstay for Gokulam Kerala since joining the club in 2019 from NEROCA FC. He is known for his exceptional agility and speed, as he never shies away from an opportunity to overlap.
This season he also improved the defensive side of things and looked like a tireless engine running up and down the right channel. Apart from his energy and attacking instinct, Sebastian’s versatility to slot in even as a left-back makes him an even greater asset.
Centre-Back: Hamza Kheir (Churchill Brothers)
The Lebanese centre-back added steel to the Churchill Brothers backline. He marshalled the defenders and kept the team’s shape intact, which resulted in a great defensive performance from the Red Machines in the regular season. Kheir used his towering presence to great effect to thwart away danger. His leadership skills were also on display, as he guided a bunch of young defenders.
The 27-year old brought in all his experience to Fernando Varela’s team and therefore they were once in a very dominating position to clinch the title. His importance was noticed when he got injured in the championship phase and missed a few matches. The period marked the end of the Red Machines’ unbeaten run and they eventually lost out on the title.
Centre-Back: Deepak Devrani (Gokulam Kerala)
Deepak Devrani looks like the man with the Midas touch as this was his third I-League title. The 28-year old versatile defender was truly the leader in defence for Vincenzo Annese’s men. The Malabarians did not start the league as they would have liked, but gradually it was Devrani who started guiding the other defenders and was very vocal in maintaining the shape at the back.
But, Devrani showed the mental and physical toughness to fight through tricky situations. Amidst all the defending that he had to do this season, he also notched four assists. It’s a testament to the fact that he is decent with the ball at his feet and can even slot in as a right-back, if needed.
Left-Back: Sena Ralte (Real Kashmir)
Another veteran in this lineup who rediscovered his lost form in the I-League this season. Real Kashmir added Sena Ralte to their ranks to shore up the defence and also to add that extra bit of energy that the former Delhi Dynamos and ATK full-back offers.
He was very astute defensively and maintained proper balance while moving up the field as well. He notched five assists this season and most of them came from his pinpoint crosses, which were intended for all the towering players at Real Kashmir.
Right Central Midfielder: Konsam Phalguni Singh (TRAU FC)
This is the second season on the trot that the Manipuri midfielder has stood out with his performances for TRAU. Phalguni’s efforts were acknowledged as he was awarded with the Best Midfielder award. He maintained chemistry between the locals and foreign players being the captain. Phalguni was the creative nucleus of this TRAU side, which was very much reliant on counter-attacks and that made him standout from the rest.
The 26-year old complimented the fiery attack of Komron Tursunov, Joseph Olaleye and Bidyashagar Singh with his exceptional defence-splitting passes.
Central Defensive Midfielder: Bazie Armand (Churchill Brothers)
After creativity, we return to adding more steel to our team and therefore Bazie Armand makes the cut. Armand simply had a sensational seaso,n where he worked really hard to provide cover for the Churchill Brothers backline and also acted as the initiator of attacking build-ups. He had great sync with midfielders like Richard Costa, Kingslee Fernandes and showed unreal consistency to play every minute in this campaign.
The 29-year old brought all his experience in Indian football to the table for Churchill Brothers and for once it looked like they were running away with the league. But, as their form dropped, Bazie still kept giving decent performances, despite the defeats.
Left Central Midfielder: Emil Benny (Gokulam Kerala)
The new kid on the block has already made a name for himself with his exquisite trickery and crafty footwork. This was Benny’s first I-League season and he was as bright as a star in the Gokulam Kerala midfield. His darting runs and ability to be at the right place in the final third makes him a huge threat for any opposition.
With three goals and two assists, the 20-year old has shown that he has a calm head on those young shoulders and is here for the long haul. With Indian Super League teams likely already calling, it will exciting to see the young boy from Wayanad realising his boyhood dream of being a professional footballer.
Right Forward: Dennis Antwi (Gokulam Kerala)
The Ghanaian did justice to his name, as he showed some exceptional goalscoring prowess during the championship phase, especially when the Malabarians needed them the most. Antwi took his time to settle into the style of play and build chemistry with other players. But, once he did, he was hard to stop.
The 28-year old ended the campaign with 11 goals, becoming the joint-second highest goalscorer along with Luka Majcen. He also mustered six assists, which is a testament to his all-around skills as a forward. Just to highlight his importance, especially in the championship round, he scored seven of his 11 goals in that phase.
Striker: Luka Majcen (Churchill Brothers)
The Slovenian marksmen was undoubtedly one of the genuine goalscorers in the I-League. There were a lot of quality strikers in the league this season, but only a few could match Majcen’s hunger for scoring goals. His last-minute goal against Chennai City bailed out Churchill Brothers and in hindsight, kept them in title contention till the last day.
The Slovenian showed great attitude to fight for every ball near the final third and created a great partnership with Honduran forward Clayvin Zuniga. His poaching skills made him the perfect No.9 for the Red Machines.
Left Forward: Bidyashagar Singh (TRAU FC)
Last but not the least, the golden boy of this I-League season Bidyashagar Singh was simply a revelation for TRAU. The young forward ended the campaign as the highest goalscorer with 12 goals and also bagged the Best Player award. He shared a great camaraderie with Tajik forward Tursunov.
Bidyashagar was looking for his breakthrough season for some time now and finally, his time has arrived. Although he failed to fulfil his dream of winning the title for Manipur, he gave it his best shot. With plenty of ISL clubs interested in the forward, the 23-year old will look to replicate the same performance on the big stage.