The list comprises three goalkeepers too.
The eighth edition of the Indian Super League (ISL 2021-22) had witnessed a positive change for Indian football. The league implemented the four-foreigner rule which saw seven Indian players take the field. The rule proved beneficial for Indian players since they started enjoying more playing minutes.
Moreover, the change in rule also benefitted the U-23 or U-21 players, who earned an opportunity to showcase what they possess. The past had witnessed how players like Sandesh Jhinghan, Lallianzuala Chhangte, etc. grabbed these chances and established themselves as ‘stars’ of Indian football.
In this piece, we will take a look at the top 10 U-23 players who enjoyed the most playing minutes in ISL 2021-22.
10. Suresh Singh Wangjam (1298 minutes)
The 22-year-old played 16 matches last season but wasn’t at his best for Bengaluru FC. This was Suresh Wangjam’s third season with the club and his performance seemed to have dipped a little, compared to the successful outings he had in 2020-21. In 2020-21, he had played 19 games (1542 minutes). In the upcoming season, Suresh will look to restore his old form and orchestrate the Bengaluru FC midfield.
9. Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem (1350 minutes)
After his transfer from ATK Mohun Bagan to FC Goa, Dheeraj enjoyed a dream start to his career. His performance in the AFC Champions League 2021 saw him earn a place in the Team of the Tournament, respectively. The 21-year-old was actually the first Indian to make the list. He made 26 saves in just five matches, saving Goa on multiple occasions.
Expectations were high, but Dheeraj couldn’t replicate the same form in ISL 2021-22, mustering just one clean sheet in 15 games. The Gaurs’ faithful will expect Dheeraj to step up this season. Also, with Arshdeep Singh included in the FC Goa ranks, Dheeraj will have to produce his very best to solidify his place in the line-up!
8. Asish Rai (1375 minutes)
From the reserves of FC Pune City to being one of the main players of Hyderabad FC, it has been a journey of sorts for Asish Rai. The right-back was a key player for Hyderabad FC, making it to the playoffs last season before an injury ruled him out. Along with defending, he is also a key cog on the wings, equally adept at creating chances. This year, he has made a shift to ATK Mohun Bagan and has already featured in the Durand Cup 2022.
7. Naorem Roshan Singh (1477 minutes)
One of the standout players for Bengaluru FC last season, Naorem Roshan Singh made an instant impact with inch-perfect crosses from both wings. He replaced the experienced Ajith Kumar, Bengaluru FC’s Durand Cup-winning captain last season and held on to his place till the end of the campaign. Bengaluru FC promoted Roshan from their B team to the main squad – along with Sivasakthi Narayanan – and the move paid off well. The youngster went on to lift the Emerging Player of the League award in the 2021-22 season.
6. Mohammad Nawaz (1530 minutes)
After shifting base from FC Goa to Mumbai City FC, Nawaz has been the latter’s first choice goalkeeper. Nawaz played 17 matches last season, recording five clean sheets. Mumbai couldn’t make it to the playoffs however, even after starting the season on a positive note. Nawaz did not perform to the best of his abilities and a lot more is expected of the youngster. This season, he will face good competition from Phurba Lachenpa, who featured in all of Mumbai City’s matches in the recently concluded Durand Cup.
5. Jitendra Singh (1545 minutes)
Owen Coyle was known for bringing out the best from his players and that is exactly what he did with Jitendra Singh as well. Jitendra mainly played the role of a defensive midfielder, making 67 tackles, 23 blocks, and 19 interceptions throughout the ISL campaign. He played an instrumental role in helping Jamshedpur win the ISL League Winners’ Shield. The youngster wants to improve in the offensive third and hopes to score his maiden JFC goal in the upcoming season.
4. Jeakson Singh (1596 minutes)
After spending more than two seasons with Kerala Blasters, it was time for the U-17 World Cup goal-scorer to finally make his mark in the ISL. Ivan Vukamunovic handed him 19 starts and Jeakson played an average of 84 minutes per match. He developed a good pairing with Puitea in the heart of the Blasters’ midfield.
3. Prabhsukhan Singh Gill (1754 minutes)
Albino Gomez’s injury led to an opportunity for Prabhsukhan Singh Gill, who was Kerala Blasters’ second choice goalkeeper for over an year. Gill grabbed the opportunity with both hands and performed extremely well to even get a national call up. In ISL 2021-22, he kept seven clean sheets and went on to win the Golden Glove award. He conceded a total of 21 goals out of the 68 shots on target. Notably, he is also currently the youngest recipient of the Golden Glove accolade!
2. Lalengmawia Apuia (1770 minutes)
Apuia had already established himself in the seventh edition of the ISL, captaining NorthEast United. Mumbai City was quick to grab him for a record transfer fee for Indian players. He partnered with experienced midfielder Ahmed Jahouh, forming a deadly midfield duo. This season, he has been sent abroad for an off-season camp which will help the lad ahead of the upcoming season.
1. Akash Mishra (2026 minutes)
Like Lalengmawia, Akash Mishra too, has featured in all of Hyderabad FC’s matches. In the process, he developed a great partnership with right-back Asish Rai. Only a few players could match Akash’s pace. Along with defensive solidity, he also provided three key assists last season. Akash made 97 tackles, 62 clearances, 57 interceptions, and 36 blocks, helping the Nizams to lift their first ISL Trophy.