Some of these youngsters have attracted the attention of fans and pundits alike.

The future of Indian football is a constant point of debate. The country has never been short of bright young talents. However, most have started in blazing fashion and then vanished into obscurity. The ones that lived up to the hype, have all established their place in Indian football folklore. Some even took small steps on foreign shores.

Mohammed Salim was among the first Indian footballers to sign for an overseas club. Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu soon followed. India’s recent crop of emerging players have also shown glimpses that can take them the distance and fetch contracts from foreign clubs.

On that note, Khel Now takes a look at the top five U-20 players who can play overseas:

5. Jeakson Singh

Jeakson Singh Kerala Blasters Indian Football Team
Jeakson (right) was one of the best players for Kerala Blasters in the 2020-21 season

One of the most popular young players currently in India, Jeakson Singh etched his name into history when he scored against Colombia in the FIFA U-17 World Cup, making him the only Indian goalscorer in a major FIFA tournament. Now 19, Jeakson has played two seasons of the Indian Super League for Kerala Blasters and has already made his India debut.

In the 2020-21 season, Jeakson made 26 interceptions, the most by a Kerala Blasters player. Having started out as a defensive midfielder, Jeakson also excelled as a centre-back when required for Kibu Vicuna’s Blasters. He is confident on the ball and had the sixth-most touches and passes among the Kerala Blasters players in the ISL 2020-21 season. He also registered 48 tackles and 21 clearances, which holds him in good stead in midfield and at the back.

4. Akash Mishra

Akash Mishra
Akash Mishra made his senior India debut in an International Friendly against Oman

Not many 19-year-olds can make a smooth transition from cricket to football like the Hyderabad FC left-back. It took his ISL coach Manolo Marquez just one game to predict a big future for the lad from Balrampur. Mishra is not your regular left-back. As much as he is good at defending, Mishra can also make marauding runs down the left wing. That he had the most touches (1250) and most passes (827) by an HFC player in ISL 2020-21, tells you he is not scared of having the ball at his feet.

His 55 interceptions were the third-most in the league in the 2020-21 season. Mishra also made 80 tackles, again the most by a Hyderabad FC player and effected 48 clearances.

3. Suresh Singh Wangjam

Suresh Singh Wangjam was a standout performer for Bengaluru FC in the 2020-21 season

Playing in the Bengaluru FC midfield, one of the most coveted spots in Indian club football, is never easy for a 20-year-old. However, Suresh Singh Wangjam has not only owned the spot, but he has also dazzled in it. Yet another of the U-17 World Cup stars, Suresh was versatile right from his Indian Arrows days. At the AIFF development side he played as a defensive midfielder, in central midfield and also as a centre-back.

At BFC, Suresh has blossomed into one of the finest young Indian midfielders, with his eye for a pass and his ability to read the game. A 72.42% passing accuracy is fairly good for a young player, who is also keen on sliding into tackles. Suresh made the most tackles (68) for a BFC player in ISL 2020-21.

2. Lalengmawia (Apuia)

Lalengmawia
Lalengmawia is the youngest captain in Indian Super League history

Some players just get better when given more responsibility. Lalengmawia, ISL’s youngest captain, is one of them. He won the Player of the Match award on the same night that he achieved the feat of becoming the youngest player to be given the armband. This though wasn’t the first time Apuia was showing what responsibility does to him. Against Colombia in the U-17 World Cup, he came in as a substitute to spark India’s brief comeback.

In his debut ISL season, Apuia established himself at the heart of NorthEast United’s midfield with an 80.45 passing accuracy in 10 matches. Last season, he had the second-most interceptions (46), tackles (93) and passes (811) for NEUFC, all behind fellow midfielder Khassa Camara. But, greater than that is his calmness and composure on the ball and a cool head to control the game, that assures a bright future for the 20-year-old.

1. Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem

Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem
Dheeraj has become one of the best goalkeepers in India

That he is a top goalkeeping prospect was apparent in his displays at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup. It earned him a potential three-year deal at Motherwell FC, which unfortunately did not materialize due to work permit issues. But, that did not bog down the 20-year-old custodian. He was among the most sought-after goalkeepers in Indian football, but a move to ATK Mohun Bagan from Kerala Blasters looked ill-timed, before FC Goa prized him away and rejuvenated his career.

Dheeraj made 26 saves in five matches in the AFC Champions League for Goa and was named twice in the AFC CL Team of the Week. With an 86.2% save percentage, Dheeraj was by far the best goalkeeper in the competition’s group stage. He also kept clean-sheets against Al Wahda and Al-Rayyan, both former league champions of their countries. He is already among the best goalkeepers in the country and a stint overseas looks like a matter of time.

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