When the Indian Super League (ISL) returns for a fourth season in a few days, a potentially game-changing rule will come into effect—the rule on having six Indians on the pitch at all times. The added spot could possibly mean more opportunities for home-grown youngsters to take the pitch and make an impact. Here are the five most promising youngsters to mark at the upcoming ISL:
Vishal Kaith (goalkeeper at FC Pune City)
FC Pune City have clearly gone for promise over experience when it comes to the squad for the 2017 season, and no position reflects it more than goalkeeping with all three keepers being 22 or below.
What this means is that Vishal Kaith, who was a substitute all through last season for the Maharashtra outfit, will get a chance to stand under the bar when the 2017 season starts. Known for his cat-like reflexes and his ball distribution, Kaith was among the only two players to be retained by FC Pune City—the other being Ashique Kuruniyan.
The Himachal Pradesh lad's potential was noticed early—he was picked by the All India Football Federation to play for the U-16 and U-19 national sides before he made it to the AIFF Elite Academy in 2013. He made waves there which led Shillong Lajong FC to snap him up. He justified the move by cementing his place at the club, playing each minute of the 2015-16 season as the club went on to finish fifth. Little wonder then, that Pune moved for him and are considering him as part of their core for not just the upcoming season, but the future.
Anirudh Thapa (Midfielder at Chennaiyin FC)
The 19-year-old has had limited opportunities for Chennaiyin FC so far but with the league getting longer this time around he could get more chances to prove himself. The central midfielder's potential led to him being sent to France with two other players last year for a three-month training stint with French club side FC Metz's U-19 side. He also made his India debut as a substitute against St Kitts and Nevis this year in August.
Albino Gomes (Goalkeeper at Delhi Dynamos)
Making his name at I-League side Salgaocar, the Goan goalkeeper has also represented the country at the AFC Under-16 and Under-19 Championships before he got the chance to be in the India U-23 squad which played Uzbekistan in the AFC Championship qualifiers. He has not played too many matches in the ISL—at Mumbai City FC he played one match in the 2015 season, while last season he stood under the bar in four matches. However, his stock has risen manifold in recent times.
The shot-stopper was part of the greatest underdog story in Indian football in recent times—Aizawl FC winning the I-League. In fact, he also gave the club a moment to remember—saving Bengaluru FC striker Sunil Chhetri's penalty in a league match which helped the North East club to eke out a draw.
This season, though, Delhi are likely to have him as their first choice goalkeeper.
Udanta Singh (Winger at Bengaluru FC)
It is easy to forget that Udanta Singh is just 21 years of age given his exploits in the I-League with Bengaluru FC, where he has helped the team win the I-League and a Federation Cup title. Playing primarily as a winger for the Bengaluru outfit, the Manipur lad was among the two players retained by Bengaluru FC, along with Sunil Chhetri, a nod at the potential the club believe he has.
While Udanta made just one appearance in the Indian Super League last season during a loan stint with Mumbai City FC, Bengaluru FC are likely to jot his name on the team sheet in every match this time around. Belying his age, the kind of faith he inspires in coaches was visible when India coach Stephen Constantine gave him his debut against Iran, a team which was ranked over a 100 spots above the Blue Tigers, back in March 2016. Since then, Udanta has made a name for himself with his pace down the right flank.
Lallianzuala Chhangte (Midfielder at Delhi Dynamos)
In December 2015, Chhangte became India’s second youngest goalscorer when he bagged a brace against Nepal at the 2015 SAFF Championship. The 20-year-old finished the 2014-15 season as the I-League U-19 competition's top-scorer and has had a training stint at Liverpool FC's youth academy at Kirkby.
This season the forward, who can also play on the wings, will be keen to prove his worth after a tepid last season, where he was just given 16 minutes of play time at NorthEast United FC by Nelo Vingada. Adding to that were his woes in last season’s I-League, where he could score just once in 16 appearances for DSK-Shivajians.
Updated Date: Nov 16, 2017 15:16 PM