The decision of getting rid of marquee players for the upcoming Indian Super League (ISL) edition means one thing– the onus will be on the experienced Indian players to step up. In the absence of the mandatory marquee deals, the homegrown players and especially the seniors, would look at the forthcoming league as a perfect platform to show their worth and lead by example to set a benchmark for generations to come.
Since the inception of the ISL in 2013, the league has banked on its senior players to foster the sport in the country. However, it was the marquee players like Alessandro Del Piero, David Trezeguet, Nicolas Anelka, Diego Forlan and a few well-known names who stole the limelight. But with the emphasis on Indian players, the coming months should be interesting for their respective careers. Here are the five senior players to watch out for in the upcoming ISL season.
Sunil Chhetri (Bengaluru FC)
India's all-time top-scorer Chhetri will lead from the front for the ISL newcomers Bengaluru FC after a successful stint with Mumbai City FC in 2015 and 2016. Just like the national team, the 33-year-old forward has the task of marshalling the troops for hsi franchise. Interestingly, Chhetri will be expected to play as a lone striker and not as a second fiddle to someone like Anelka or Forlan, with whom he played at Mumbai City FC. More importantly, Chhetri will be surrounded by the presence of players like Udanta Singh and Daniel Lalhimpuia, wingers who link up well with the experienced forward. In a situation like this, Chhetri would look to make most of his chances and convert those into goals regularly. Having scored a barrage of goals season after season, one can expect Chhetri to keep hitting the ball at the back of the net swiftly for Albert Roca's fast-paced side this season.
Sandesh Jhingan (Kerala Blasters)
Isn't it surprising to see a 21-year-old contain experienced strikers in his debut season on the grandest stage of Indian football? Jhingan's noteworthy performances for Kerala Blasters in 2014 are still etched in the minds of many which eventually earned him the 'Emerging Player of the League' award. The lanky defender is arguably one of best centre-backs in the country right now and with his admirable defensive prowess, it will difficult to beat him. Looking at his growth, Blasters did not waste much time in retaining Jhingan by handing him a three-year contract worth 1.28 cr per year, making him the highest paid defender in the country. Jhingan has been with the franchise for three seasons now which says a lot about the 23-year-old defender's worth in the team. This season though, Jhingan will have his task cut out as the longer version of ISL promises to test Indian players' fitness and it will be interesting to see how he responds.
Jeje Lalpekhlua (Chennaiyin FC)
After being picked up by Chennaiyin FC in the 2014 draft, Jeje has successfully terrorised defences and since then the 26-year-old has emerged as a vital cog for not only his club but also for the national team. In his 33 appearances for the Chennai-based team, Jeje has netted 13 goals and assisted on six occasions. The forthcoming season should throw more challenges for the frontman as the revamped season is something Indian players need to adjust to. For Jeje, maintaining sharpness against sturdy defences should be the only rationale. There were no murmurs whatsoever when 2015 champions Chennaiyin FC decided to retain Jeje after looking at what he has achieved in three years with the club.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (Bengaluru FC)
Gurpreet Singh has made it big already. His decision to leave Norwegian side Staebek FC and join Bengaluru FC left many scratching their heads but lack of chances abroad was arguably one of the reasons for the switch. However, at BFC, the experienced custodian has managed to get the much-needed minutes under his belt and seal his place as India's first choice goalkeeper. Under Roca, the Punjab-born goalkeeper will be presented with a golden opportunity to grow even more. The has experience on his side which puts him in a comfortable position going into the tournament. Gurpreet, who became the first player to be purchased by an Indian club from a European club in a move involving a transfer fee, is already a fan-favourite and has impressed many with his ability to stand tall against the deadliest of strikers.
Eugeneson Lyngdoh (Atletico de Kolkata)
It would be foolish to keep Lyngdoh out of your attacking trio. Snapped up by Atletico de Kolkata this season, the 31-year-old forward will have his sights firmly placed on producing the kind of performances that earned him a move to Bengaluru FC in 2014. In the 2015-2016 season, he made a total of 13 appearances and scored three goals for Pune City FC, where coach David Platt was left in awe of his technical abilities upfront. This season, Lyngdoh will once again have a major role to play for his new side, bearing in mind that the season will be bereft of marquee signings. With Jayesh Rane and Robbie Keane's support, Lyngdoh would enjoy a free role where he can be more creative and dangerous from the middle of the park.
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Updated Date: Nov 16, 2017 15:13:48 IST