The league’s 2020-21 season proved that some of the players have enough quality to represent the Blue Tigers.
Over the last few years, the Indian national team head coaches have largely ignored the I-League. Several players in the last few seasons have been sensational and yet have not even been considered for the Blue Tigers. Even during Igor Stimac’s stint, the Croatian tactician has not favoured I-League players. However, there are a few players who have had exceptional I-League seasons. They definitely deserve a shot to don the national team jersey.
We take a look at five players from the recently-concluded I-League season who can represent the Indian national team:
5. Sebastian Thangmuansang (Gokulam Kerala)
One of the most consistent players for Gokulam Kerala, Sebastian had a breakthrough season this time out. The Pune FC academy graduate is known for his relentless work-rate and overlapping runs. Despite being very attack-minded, Sebastian has maintained a great balance between the two departments. His agility and electric pace helped him get the better of many forwards and bail out Gokulam’s defence multiple times.
The 22-year old full-back from Manipur has already joined ISL side Odisha FC on a two-year contract. The biggest strength of Sebastian has to be his aggressive mindset and versatility to play on either flank. There are not many full-backs who are equally capable with both feet. With more experience and polish, the Manipuri can definitely don the India blue very soon.
Deepak Devrani (Gokulam Kerala)
Deepak Devrani is one of those who played a crucial role in making Gokulam Kerala the I-League champions. His experience and leadership ability was on display this season, as he guided the youngsters and stepped in at any position for Vincenzo Annese. Devrani, who can even slot in as right-back changed the dynamics of the team. He added more steel to the backline and complimented Mohamed Awal really well.
He had already won the title with Mohun Bagan and also represented Minerva Punjab during their historic season. That confidence and resolve of a seasoned campaigner were evident in the way he carried himself through the tough matches in the league this season. This was his third I-League title. He definitely has the mentality and skills to make it to the national team.
3. Emil Benny (Gokulam Kerala)
The crafty winger from Wayanad has been the talk of the country after his heroics to help Gokulam Kerala win their maiden I-League title. Benny dropped a Man of the Match performance on the final day of the league against title contenders TRAU FC. Although Benny is still very raw and inexperienced, he has the panache which makes him a huge threat in the final third.
The 19-year old can dribble past opponents at will and create chances, which really came to fruition in the latter half of the league. He is a player who has a big future in Indian football. If he keeps working on his decision-making and improves his physicality, he can surely be one of the players to watch out for in national team colours.
2. Bidyashagar Singh (TRAU FC)
Probably the best Indian to feature in last season’s I-League. Bidyashagar broke several records with his goalscoring exploits and answered his critics from previous seasons. He did not get much game-time at East Bengal. Later, as the Red and Gold joined the ISL, the Manipuri forward went back to his boyhood club, TRAU FC. The 23-year old developed a great understanding with players like Komron Tursunov, Phalguni Singh and Joseph Olaleye. Hence, the fluidity in transition from midfield to attack was very evident.
Bidyashagar’s greatest strength has to be his blistering speed. Using that to his advantage he got in behind the opposition backline multiple times. He also worked on his finishing, as he finished the season as the top scorer in the league, beating several top foreign strikers. In a country where goalscoring forwards are a scarcity, Igor Stimac should take a look at Bidyashagar Singh, who can be the solution to numerous problems in the national team setup.
1. Konsam Phalguni Singh
It was a breakthrough season for Phalguni Singh, who really got to show his ball-playing skills in the TRAU midfield. The 26-year old midfielder was the creative nucleus of the Red Pythons, as he looked composed on the ball and produced some exceptional passes. TRAU were mostly dependent on quick transitions and for that, they needed someone who could retain possession and pick the right passes. In Phalghuni they had all of the above. His development as a midfielder over the years is for everyone to see and therefore he was adjudged as the Midfielder of the Season.
Phalguni was the one who controlled the tempo of the game for TRAU. He pulled the strings from midfield and orchestrated most of the attacks. He can be an asset for any ISL side and with some more experience he can even go on to represent India. His ability to control the tempo, pick passes and retain possession makes him unique as a player.