The competition has witnessed the rise of many youngsters, some of whom could be an integral part of the national team in future.
Every season, Indian football gets a new blue-eyed boy. A talent unparalleled, a dream the country watches unfold together with hopes pinned to take the crest of the Blue Tigers ahead. With the advent of Indian Super League (ISL), Jerry Lalrinzuala, Anirudh Thapa and several others have been on this list, rising from the ranks of youth football to the humdrum of senior action.
This season, the ISL has witnessed several names that have made a distinct mark on the pitch, with a few doing the rounds for call-ups to the Indian national team. Let’s take a look at some of these names:
10. Suresh Singh Wangjam
Suresh Singh Wangjam was part of the Indian national youth setup for the longest time, also featuring for India’s U-17 side during the World Cup in 2017. He has been part of Bengaluru FC for some time and last season’s sporadic appearances prepared him for a more active role this campaign. The youngster has played every game for the JSW Group-owned side, barring the encounter against NorthEast United.
He has been a powerhouse in the middle of the park and his tenacity and lungs would make N’Golo Kante proud. He continuously broke down play against Chennaiyin FC and was brilliant in Bengaluru’s season opener, a 1-0 win over Jamshedpur FC. Suresh may not get straight into the starting XI, but can be a reliable backup option for Igor Stimac, if India are defending a lead late in the game.
9. Seriton Fernandes
Seriton has been on Khel Now’s list for players that deserve call-up to the national team for years now. Consistent, fit, a good passer and relentless runner down the right side of the pitch, Seriton is a coach’s delight. He’s comfortable on the ball, is a decent crosser and rarely gets beaten for speed.
He has been one of the first names on the team-sheet for ISL outfit FC Goa and rarely gives a below-par performance. Goa play centrally instead of using width for crossing and thus, stats do not give a complete picture of Seriton’s effectiveness. With 75.21% accurate passes, he knows how to keep the ball, a trait Stimac can use in abundance. The right-back was particularly brilliant against ATK Mohun Bagan and Chennaiyin.
8. Rahul KP
Should he be on this list? A lot of people may answer in the negative. However, Rahul has been a ray of bright hope at Kerala Blasters when fans were busy going crazy over Sahal Abdul Samad’s control. Fans worldwide love players who perform brilliantly against arch-rivals and that was the case with Rahul against Bengaluru FC. This game carries a little extra flavour and the youngster scored in both games against the Blues this season.
Questions over his versatility were answered a long time back. He played as a winger, a full-back and a forward during the FIFA U-17 World Cup for the hosts. At Kerala, he has played as a right-winger, a forward as well as a central attacking outlet. His shooting has been a delight to watch and his run in the last minute against Bengaluru and the shot past Gurpreet Singh Sandhu in a pressure situation deserves accolades. He can be useful if brought on late into the game, to trouble tired defences.
7. Chinglensana Singh Konsham
He rose to prominence in the Indian football circuit when he made the move from Shillong Lajong to Delhi Dynamos and matured nicely under Gianluca Zambrotta. However, a move to FC Goa saw him play just 20-odd games. Interestingly, the defender did feature for the Blue Tigers once under the reign of Stephen Constantine in a game against Bhutan a few years ago. The 24-year-old got another chance to resuscitate his career at Hyderabad FC and he’s grabbed it with both hands.
Five clean-sheets have seen Hyderabad draw several games that they have failed to score in, helping them sit in the top half of the ISL table, something no-one expected at the beginning of the season. He was tremendous in the game against Mumbai City FC, arguably the best attacking team in the league. His recent performances against NorthEast and Chennaiyin, too, will make one sit up and take notice.
6. Liston Colaco
If you’re looking at a lot of moves, some take-ons, and a bit of creativity from the wings into the opposition box, Liston Colaco is your go-to player in Indian football at the moment. Brilliantly used by Manolo Marquez at Hyderabad, Colaco has made the most of the time he has been on the pitch. Against NorthEast United, he scored twice in 26 minutes to take his team to a 4-2 win.
He has been fouled 2.2 times every game and that proves he has been dribbling and beating defenders regularly. If all of this falls flat, there’s that swivel and dribble against Scott Neville that left the veteran East Bengal defender kicking into thin air. Colaco has scored twice and assisted thrice so far, starting eight games off the possible 17 for Hyderabad. His development has been a delight for every Indian football fan.
He has been an absolute revelation at NorthEast. Under Gerard Nus, Apuia, as he is popularly known, grew into a magnificent beast, controlling the tempo with consummate ease and finding attackers with elegance. The fact that 75% of his passes in the opposition half have been accurate suggests how good he has been in central midfield. A direct head-to-head against Amarjit Singh Kiyam?
He does his duties in defence as well. Delivering 4.5 tackles and 2.2 interceptions per game is no mean feat for a player who oozes calm on the ball. His heatmap shows he’s not much of a drifter and is happy performing his box-to-box role with dedication. Apuia, as several NEUFC fans would vouch for, could be the biggest breakthrough player of the season.
4. Bipin Singh
In an attacking lineup that names Hugo Boumous, Adam le Fondre, Bartholomew Ogbeche, Cy Goddard and Jackichand Singh, holding onto your own is no mean feat. Some credit for Mumbai City’s brilliant (and expected) run in the ISL league stage should be given to Bipin, who has been no short of brilliant with his attacking partners.
He has had several memorable games this season and is a workhorse who keeps running the entire length of the pitch to support his team’s moment. His two goals and four assists have been crucial in Mumbai’s journey and Stimac shouldn’t miss out on this one!
3. Asish Rai
A natural right-back, Rai’s knack for defending and going forward is a dream for any coach who chooses to give him freedom. While his defending has been as strong as ever, he has added another layer to his game – playing the ball forward. Against both Chennaiyin FC and FC Goa, Rai had memorable games. Against Chennaiyin, he didn’t allow Lallianzuala Chhangte enough space to work his magic.
He also dribbles a lot – with at least 1.68 successful dribbles every game. He has been a revelation since last season, with playing time, freedom and Marquez’s tactics working well for him. Igor Stimac will have a very difficult decision to make for the right-back position.
2. Ishan Pandita
Is he the Ole Gunner Solskjaer of the Indian Super League? If you think we overdid it, wait till we reveal the stats. The FC Goa marksman has scored four goals in seven games. Not too impressed? He has played just 51 minutes for his four goals. That’s a goal every 12.75 minutes on the pitch and while he won’t be able to continue that amazing number, Pandita is a player you can’t take your eyes off as a defender.
He won the game for his side against Hyderabad and earned draws against ATK Mohun Bagan, Mumbai City FC, Chennaiyin FC. Ishan has been absolutely lethal in front of goal, converting half-chances regularly. He has played in Spain in the past and remains eligible for a call-up to the national side. It could be a rollicking duo – Ishan Pandita and Sunil Chhetri in tandem!
1. Akash Mishra
Yes, you’re right, it was tough to call between Akash and Asish, but Akash won it because it was his debut on the big stage. Such resilience, calm and confidence for a 20-year-old is impressive and then come his performances. Coming straight from the Indian Arrows stable, no-one expected him to have the impact he has made. Against NorthEast United, Jamshedpur and Mumbai City, Akash was at a different level altogether.
All of this at just 20! He’s your sweet boy next door until you’ve to take a ball past him. Brilliant in his positioning, aerially strong and a clean passer, he has made 2.6 interceptions per game while also making 4.1 tackles. Manolo Marquez has given India a gem and Stimac needs to find a way to use him to the best of his abilities.
Notable mentions – Amey Ranawade, Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Rochharzela, Ashutosh Mehta, Saviour Gama.