Some of these names were extremely pivotal to their teams’ performance this term.
The Indian Super League (ISL)’s fifth edition provided the fans with much glitz and glamour as well as emerging talents which indicate a brighter future for the competition. Along with the solid groundwork from the foreign players, many domestic players seized on their opportunities to break through the ranks. However, while some breakthrough stars attained a lot of attention with dazzling performances or work in wowing fans, there were some others who kept doing their brilliant work without much hassle.
These players were equally brilliant as some of the “top stars” among them, but lack of goals or glittering displays didn’t allow them to be considered among the best. Indeed, these unsung heroes kept it simple and played football as it’s meant to, helping churn out crucial wins and making positive impressions themselves.
5. Milan Singh (Mumbai City FC)
Mumbai City’s shrewd transfer business prior to their season allowed them to flourish under Jorge Costa. But Milan Singh turned out to be a particularly profitable signing, with the 26-year-old quickly becoming a pillar in the Islanders midfield. Costa relished someone with Milan’s ability and made him the rabid cog in his midfield, who was relentless in chasing down opposition to recover possession.
Singh was one of the most important figures of Jorge Costa’s system for the Islanders
In his 15 appearances for Mumbai City, Milan showcased amazing energy to be an electric figure who’s pressing caused problems for many. He averaged 3 tackles per game, while also having made 17 interceptions and 29 clearances in his campaign. While Mumbai’s attackers earned high praises, Milan’s diligent work in making life difficult for fellow midfielders and giving the Islanders a boost of energy was a precious element in Costa’s system.
4. Redeem Tlang (NorthEast United)
While NorthEast United’s foreign contingent were praised the most for their inspired season under Eelco Schattorie, some of their Indian players gained relevance as well. Redeem Tlang, their newest signing from Shillong Lajong, worked the hardest in every game to attain victories for the Highlanders. The 24-year-old featured in almost all of NorthEast’s games throughout the season, being a tricky figure to deal in the wings.
Tlang was an important part of the NorthEast United squad that reached the playoffs
However, not only did he help create chances with his pace and trickery, Tlang worked his heart out to help his side dominate games. For a winger, he recorded 75 tackles, much more than what midfielders and defenders have. He only got that single goal, but it was a stunning one in the playoffs against Bengaluru FC. Tlang was NorthEast’s own workhorse and often sacrificed his own glory to set up match-winning moments for others.
3. Sauvik Chakrabarti (Mumbai City FC)
Another new arrival to Mumbai City FC, Sauvik blend into their system like fish to water. The right-back was a crucial part for the Islanders earning a reputation of boasting a mean defence, as he was rock-solid at the back. Sauvik didn’t drift forward much, but whenever he did, he made sure to make it count as he created some noticeable chances with his crosses and balls forward. However, it was his defensive work which often went under the radar, but proved to be commendable time and again.
The former Mohun Bagan defender helped Mumbai keep seven clean-sheets, making 65 tackles, 36 interceptions and 115 clearances in his 18 appearances. While Lucian Goain, Subhashish Bose and Amrinder Singh were lauded for Mumbai’s defensive solidity, Sauvik’s strong groundwork was equally crucial towards maintaining an unbreakable defensive line.
2. Pawan Kumar (NorthEast United)
When the season began, Pawan Kumar wasn’t even guaranteed a place in NorthEast United’s starting XI. However, a suspension for T.P Rehenesh proved to be a blessing in disguise for the Highlanders. Pawan Kumar made the goalkeeper’s spot his own, with his solid performances keeping the erroneous Rehenesh on the bench. Schattorie would’ve been glad to have someone reliable like Kumar guarding his goal, as the 28-year-old goalkeeper was on song throughout.
He kept six clean-sheets for the Highlanders, helping keep their stubborn defensive structure intact with his commendable work in goal. He made 35 saves, 41 clearances and 65 catches and made up for his defenders’ mistakes time and again. Kumar gave some glowing performances throughout and even though NorthEast’s attack received praises for their rise, his work in goal was equally important towards keeping their march intact.
1. Harmanjot Singh Khabra (Bengaluru FC)
Khabra proved to be one of the most versatile players in the league
If Harmanjot Singh Khabra was asked to play even as a goalkeeper, he’d probably be doing that. The most diligent figure in Bengaluru FC, Khabra used his versatility to become an unbreakable pillar in Bengaluru’s side. While he didn’t have the speed of Udanta Singh, goal-scoring charm of Sunil Chhetri or the rise of Rahul Bheke, yet was as important as any. Khabra played at right-back, center-midfield, attacking midfield and a load of other positions.
However, what made him so effective was his dedication to the cause. Khabra’s positioning sense, discipline and ability to pop up in the right place at the right time helped him thwart danger and get moves rolling for Bengaluru. He made 3 assists while recording 35 tackles and 22 interceptions in 20 appearances, as Khabra led a simple campaign and put in a lot of hard work to help Bengaluru reach the promise land.