Some of these starlets featured in the Nizams’ title-winning run last season.
Fresh from winning their first-ever Indian Super League (ISL) title, Hyderabad FC have turned their attention towards their younger contingent. Despite the support of experienced maestros like Bartholomew Ogbeche and Joao Victor, the Nizams benefitted from their youngsters substantially. Players like Akash Mishra and Aniket Jadhav were part of the core group that catalyzed the successful title charge. While the former has been a reliable defensive mainstay, the latter was one of Hyderabad’s trusted outlets in attack.
Manolo Marquez’s trust in them saw them get their maiden national team call-ups as well. However, there are some exciting players in the U-23 category who are destined to grow leaps and bounds. With the improved focus on youth football in India, fans can expect these starlets to feature in the national setup should they excel at the club level.
Let’s have a glance at six U-23 players to look out for at Hyderabad FC next season.
6. Alex Saji (22)
Hailing from Kerala, Saji was part of the historic Gokulam Kerala squad that defended the I-League crown for the first time in history. The resolute centre-back can also slot in comfortably at right-back and is at ease with the ball. With the style of play that Manolo Marquez emphasizes upon, his distribution and calmness will be of utmost importance.
The 22-year-old can play as an understudy to Chinglensana Singh as they harbour similar skillsets. His inclusion also allows Joao Victor to be deployed in his preferred position – a defensive midfielder.
5. Rohit Danu (20)
As one of the club’s youngest attackers, Rohit Danu has the potential to be one of India’s future stars. The Indian Arrows graduate enjoyed a slow start after signing for the Nizams, but roared to life in the 2021-22 season. From just five starts in his debut season, he went on to play 17 games last season and scored two crucial goals for his club.
Danu is one of the most-versatile forwards at the club. His work-rate is commendable and that helps him win a lot of second balls and initiate counter-attacks. Additionally, his predatory instincts almost always make sure that he’s at the right place at the right time. His goal against Mumbai City last season is testimony to this ability. Fans can expect the youngster to feature more regularly and get his name on the scoresheet more often.
4. Ramhlunchhunga (21)
Hyderabad FC secured the services of yet another exciting talent in Aizawl centre-forward Ramhlunchhunga. The Mizoram-born rapid forward was actually teammates with Akash Mishra at the U Dream Football academy before joining Aizawl FC. With 33 appearances for the club, he scored and assisted thrice last season. He also bagged two Man of the Match awards and was one of Aizawl’s best players.
Although he might have to impress instantly in training to break through to the first-team, he boasts of adequate potential to be able to do so. His style of play would complement the Nizams as he can be deployed as a lone striker or alongside Bartholomew Ogbeche or Javier Siverio.
3. Sweden Fernandes (22)
A Sporting Clube de Goa and Dempo SC graduate, Sweden Fernandes was roped in by the Nizams in the 2020-21 window following which he left for a loan spell with NEROCA FC. The right winger scored once and assisted twice last season with the Manipur-based outfit. A return to Manolo Marquez’s side could potentially give him the opportunity to shine and reach the heights he is meant to.
The technically-gifted winger is also a fox-in-the-box as underlined by his goals for FC Goa’s developmental team. Apparently, he can gift Manolo Marquez with an additional goalscoring threat to relieve the pressure on the central striker. Like Ramhlunchhunga, his entry into the first team may prove tough but he’s sure to excel once he enters the fray.
2. Abdul Rabeeh (21)
Abdul Rabeeh was a part of Hyderabad FC’s development side. He caught the attention of the management during the club’s Durand Cup 2021 campaign. Along with Chhangte, Rabeeh projected stellar performances in the competition. The 21-year-old appeared three times in the ISL last season. Notably, the winger played seven games for the Nizams in the RF Development League and netted a goal. He has, however, started most of those games as an attacking midfielder.
Fluidity across the forward line is one of the player’s forte and his creativity is an asset that helps him during transitions effortlessly. Rabeeh is also an excellent player in the hole and identifies spaces with ease. For a team like Hyderabad FC, such an attribute is a blessing given the low-block tactic that teams often deploy to counter their style of play.
1. Akash Mishra (20)
Undoubtedly the best of the lot, Akash Mishra has established himself as one of the elite modern Indian fullbacks after the ISL 2021-22 season. The left-back was a standout performer as he played 23 matches and contributed two goals and three assists. Both of those goals and one assist came in the match against NorthEast United as he became the first-ever Indian player to be featured in the FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) Team of the Week (TOTW).
EA Sports granted him a blistering 85 rating for pace and his exploits have justified the same. Mishra is also an energetic defender as he managed to make 97 tackles, 62 interceptions, and 36 blocks. He also featured at the AFC Cup Qualifiers as Igor Stimac handed him his national team debut. Hyderabad FC fended off plenty of competition in the transfer market to hand him a long-term extension and fans will be eager to see him return to action.