These players often rose to the occasion and made a name for themselves with top performances.
As the curtains comes down on 2021, it is natural we look back at some of the best players to have graced the pitch this year. The calendar year saw Indian footballers displaying top performances with a number of talented youngsters leading the line. Moreover, there have been some players who have made their country and club proud. Keeping that in mind, Khel Now have put together a list, comprising of a good mix of experience and youthful exuberance.
Let’s take a look at the five best-performing Indian footballers in 2021.
5. Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem
Dheeraj’s year started with a move to FC Goa. Singh hadn’t played a single minute during his stint at ATK Mohun Bagan. The Gaurs saw his potential and awarded him with a run of games and its safe to say they did not regret the decision. He became a mainstay of a team that went on to play in the play-offs. Dheeraj registered two clean sheets in the nine games that he played in the second half of the ISL 2020-21 season.
The highlight of this year for the custodian would be his stint at the AFC Champions League. Although a learning experience for the Gaurs, all eyes were on Dheeraj after his brilliant performances. He played five games and kept two clean sheets, conceding only four goals. His heroics at the tournament made him the first Indian to feature in the AFC Champions League’s Team of the Tournament.
Now, FC Goa is going through a very uncharacteristic rough patch, but the young goalkeeper is pulling off some amazing numbers. Despite conceding 13 goals in six games, he has made 16 saves, a joint-third on the league’s statistics list. Apart from this slight aberration, Dheeraj Singh has had a memorable year and is certainly someone to watch out for in the future.
4. Bala Devi
The veteran freed herself from the shackles of social stigmas and scripted history in her own right. Bala Devi’s love affair with the sport began from the age of 12, when she played for Manipur’s U-19 women’s side. Gradually, she broke into the Indian women’s national team, where she quickly became one of the best goalscorers. It was in the 2014 SAFF Women’s Championship where she netted 16 goals in as little as five matches. She continued her fine form in the tournament, and made her name in women’s team.
In January 2020, she became the first Indian woman footballer to sign a professional contract with an overseas club. After Scottish giants Rangers FC acquired the striker’s signature, Devi went on to make history once again. She scored her first goal for the club against Motherwell FC. This made her the first Indian woman to score in a professional European League.
In May 2021, she scored her second goal for Rangers against Spartans FC. The 31-year-old was awarded with the AIFF’s Women’s Footballer of the Year title. This achievement was certainly the cherry on top for the seasoned forward in 2021.
3. Anirudh Thapa
The midfielder has been pegged as one of India’s brightest talents on the pitch. The 23-year-old was bestowed with the captain’s armband of Chennaiyin FC ahead of the Indian Super League 2021-22 season. It is fair to say that he has been handling it with extreme maturity. The Chennaiyin FC skipper will complete six seasons at the club, having signed for them back in 2016.
In the new ISL campaign, Anirudh Thapa has been an instrumental part in the team’s midfield. With abilities to hold the ball and run up the pitch with it, Thapa has already shown that he can be the one pulling the strings. He was a part of the unbeaten Chennaiyin side that went four matches without a loss. The captain has played every minute of this season till now, and has registered some amazing numbers. His passing accuracy has been moving around the 76% mark, which is outstanding for the youngster.
Thapa has also excelled with the national team and scored a goal and assist in the friendlies against Nepal. He was also part of the Indian side that won the SAFF Championship tournament in Maldives. Thapa’s inclusion on the side beterred India’s performance in the competition after they initially struggled without him.
This year has been a fulfilling one for Thapa, and he would want to finish it off by cementing his team’s position in the top four of the league.
2. Manisha Kalyan
While the Indian Women’s team might have suffered a 6-1 loss against Brazil in the four-nation tournament, there was one silver lining. It was the lone goal scored by youngster Manisha Kalyan. She marked her goal with history as it made her the first Indian to score against a senior Brazil team.
Her sparkling run on the left flank, and blasting the shot across the face of the goal was certainly the highlight of Kalyan’s year. The 20-year-old also won the AIFF Women’s Emerging Footballer of the Year award. After an unforgettable year, she looks to be a part of the promising future in store of the Indian women.
1. Manvir Singh
Another Indian player who has showcased his talents this year is Manvir Singh. The ATK Mohun Bagan star scored four goals in the latter part of last season, including a semi-final goal against NorthEast United. He has also been deployed as a wing-back despite being a forward and excelled in it.
In the new campaign, he’s scored only once, but his performances on the wings have been brilliant albeit lacking the finishing touches. Along with Liston Colaco and Roy Krishna, Singh has developed a great synergy amongst themselves which has been pivotal in their offensive work. It remains to be seen how new head coach Juan Ferrando uses him, but he will certainly be a constant source of goals and chances for the Kolkata-based side.