Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem and Boris Singh Thangjam have joined Komal Thatal at the Kolkata outfit this season. 

Sanjeev Stalin has a mean left foot, ask any budding Columbian footballer. The boy curled a sweet one from the corner spot for Jeakson Singh Thounaojam to head it into the back of the net as India scored its first FIFA World Cup on the evening of October 9, two years ago. The stadium was at its feet. It felt like a mini-earthquake had struck. Goosebumps, tears of jubilation and ecstatic uproars were all around the stadium.

I was there that day. A lot has changed since then for the boys that were wearing the Indian crests that day.

Positively, the core of the squad has continued to perform well, justifying why they were regarded highly by successive coaches, Nicolai Adam and Luis Norton de Matos. A lot of players were, until last season, playing for the Indian Arrows on loan from several ISL sides they’ve already signed for. This season though, most youngsters will play for their parent clubs.

Amarjit Singh Kiyam, probably the biggest success story from the showpiece tournament from 2017, recently wore the Indian national jersey at the King’s Cup and Intercontinental Cup and earned rave reviews for his performances. The youngster had the captain’s armband wrapped around his biceps during the world cup, and in the upcoming season, he would be settling in Jamshedpur FC’s midfield. Leap of faith. 

ATK, the two-time ISL winners, has the best core of the U-17 World Cup squad, undoubtedly. With Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem who earned interest from Motherwell, Galatasaray and West Ham United, the Kolkata-based side probably has a future national team guardian in its ranks. He was even offered a three-year deal by Motherwell, but working permits of the EU did not allow him to take the job.

Dheeraj made innumerable saves as India conceded 10 times in three games at the World Cup, and was widely regarded as one of the best performers at the tournament. The man moved on to Kerala Blasters after some tilly-tallying with Europe and has now been tapped by ATK.

Welcoming him on the roster is Komal Thatal, easily India’s best dribbler and inside-out winger at the tender age of 18. He enjoys some competition from Nongdamba Naorem and Rahul KP, but his goal against Brazil silences a lot of doubters. Thatal played a role in ATK’s campaign last season and with speed, age, vision and agility on his side, the diminutive boy is set to play a man’s role.

Thatal’s goal against Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in an ISL encounter still remains fresh in the memory of most ATK supporters. His clout continues to increase by the day and if he remains physically fit, he’s more than a handful on any day.

While Thatal threatens down the left, Boris Singh Thangjam is all set to set his claim to the right side. Boris operated as a winger under Adam, went to right-back under Matos and then again under Pinto, has operated as a winger more recently. This only suggests that the youngster from Chalrangpur knows the right side of the pitch inside out. When he’s at peak fitness, Boris is as fast and dangerous as it gets. His close control can be heart-numbing for defenders, and the zigzag runs he’s capable of making can create a lot of panic.

Have ATK got their younger version of Sameehg Doutie? The former Indian Arrows lad will need to work on his deliveries to out-perform or even come close to the South African, but certainly possesses the batteries to match up to his control and speed.

Thus, ATK certainly, at least on paper, look to have the best from the core of the FIFA U-17 World Cup squad. How well they use these exuberant youth flag-bearers of the sport is something we will have to wait and watch for.

No other ISL club consists of players from that batch who bear the technical ability and sound temperament of the troika of Boris, Dheeraj and Komal. This is an exciting time for Kolkata fans, as well as Indian football fans. Within the right setup and with the right players around them, these players certainly have the ability to take the step up and reach the higher echelons of Indian and Asian football.