These talents have attracted the attention of scouts across the Indian Super League after a superb term and it won’t be long before they make a mark in the top tier.
Over the years, the I-League has been known for its ability to give a platform to the raw talents all over the country. The league features some of the closely fought encounters and some exceptionally talented players. With the game time that they receive here, they gradually start polishing themselves. Just like each season, the 2020-21 season of I-League also gave a platform to several Indian youngsters to showcase their talents.
With its current status, the I-League remains the feeder league for the cash-rich Indian Super League. We often witness how some of the players burst onto the football scene with their performances in the second division and then go on to achieve bigger and greater things in their career.
Here are five youngsters who were exceptional in the I-League 2020-21 season.
5. Sebastian Thangmuansang
It was another stellar season for Sebastian at Gokulam Kerala as this time he took it a notch further by winning the title with the Malabarians. The 22-year-old full-back was one of the most consistent players in Vincenzo Alberto Anesse’s lineup as he threatened the opposition with his deadly crosses and overlapping runs. He maintained a balance between attack and defence which made him a very vital cog in this Gokulam side.
Sebastian is also one of the rare talents who is equally adept in playing on either flank which adds variety to his exceptional talent. His consistent performances have helped him gain attention from the top tier clubs for the ISL 2021-22 season.
4. Kingslee Fernandes
The young defensive midfielder had a breakthrough season for Churchill Brothers this season. He has featured for the Red Machines earlier as well, but this time he showed more authority in the midfield for the Goan outfit. The former FC Goa reserves player featured in as many as 15 matches this season in the I-League and was known for his exquisite positional sense and composure on the ball to initiate the attacking build-ups.
The 23-year-old complemented the disruptive skills of Bazie Armand and allowed the likes of Clayvin Zuniga and Luka Majcen to push forward without any hesitance. Kingslee showed great maturity while keeping ball possession doing justice to everything that he has learned during his time at FC Goa. He was with the Gaurs for three seasons before returning to Churchill Brothers, but in that time he never made it to the ISL. After such solid performances this season, a lot of clubs should be interested in securing the services of the Goan midfielder.
3. Bryce Miranda
Another Churchill Brothers’ player who was very consistent this season and earned a name for himself was Bryce Miranda. The Mumbai-born winger was the talk of the town as he delivered some impressive performances throughout the 2020-21 season for the Red Machines in the I-League. He finished the term with a goal and three assists. He was a crucial member for head coach Fernando Varela as he used him in his attacking quartet.
His darting runs down the channels and his exceptional dribbling skills make him stand out from the rest. Miranda is also someone who likes to bombard the penalty area with a lot of crosses, he is more of an old fashioned winger and the Red Machines also had someone like Majcen upfront to capitalise on those deliveries.
Starting from the MDFA Elite Division in Mumbai last year to shining in the I-League this year with Churchill Brothers, Miranda’s next aim will be to make it to the ISL and eventually to the national team. For now, the 21-year-old is someone who is up for any challenge and it is his never die spirit that makes him a threat to the opposition defenders.
2. Emil Benny
The youngster from Wayanad may have been famous in Kerala, but he broke through the Indian football scene this season with his skillful performances. Benny’s ability to glide past defenders with the ball makes him a unique talent. His late runs in the box and his positioning in the final third made him the emerging player of I-League 2020-21 season. The versatile midfielder who can also slot in on the hole is a big admirer of Brazilian legend Ronaldinho and therefore, also sports a similar kind of ponytail.
At only 20, Emil Benny has a lot to learn, but there is definitely a lot of potential and promise in the crafty midfielder. He finished the season with three goals and two assists and was selected as the man of the match against TRAU FC on the judgement day of the I-League. Benny produced a scintillating performance on the day under pressure. While interest from the ISL clubs will be huge, the 20-year-old should decide to stay in the I-League for a season or two and then take the leap. He needs to learn a lot of things and for that, he needs game time which I-League can provide him.
1. Bidyashagar Singh
It was a season that the Manipuri youngster could only have dreamt of. He finished scoring 12 goals which was the highest in the I-League this season. He also bagged the best player in the league award as he inspired his team, TRAU to remain in title contention till their last match against Gokulam Kerala. Bidyashagar’s journey to the top has been one based on redemption. He returned to TRAU after a disappointing previous season with East Bengal where he was not given enough opportunities in the I-League despite performing well in the other tournaments.
However, he proved his mettle by returning to TRAU and enjoyed his best season as a professional. He is currently the talk of the country especially with the amount of goals that he has scored in a single season which is a rarity in India. Bidyashagar used his electric pace and goalscoring instincts to great effect.
He also combined well with Tajikistan international forward Komron Tursunov and the duo often swapped positions and had a great chemistry going. The 23-year-old is someone who has shown trust in his abilities and therefore, never shied away from taking long-range efforts and even succeeded a few times. After a season like this, it is hard for the player to not get offers and Bidyashagar is no different. However, his new destination in the ISL is still not fixed.