The Indian Super League (ISL) has played host to a pool of talent in its short history, be it international recruits or domestic players. While experienced overseas players have hogged most of the limelight, the league has also witnessed noteworthy contributions from several youngsters.
From Jerry Lalrinzuala defending like a rock in the Chennaiyin FC backline to Jerry Mawihmingthanga sprinting through the flank to spice up Jamshedpur FC’s midfield, the young guns have never failed to entertain their viewers.
Promising, hard-working and focussed, few youngsters have even progressed to the national team; the latest being 20-year-old Anirudh Thapa, who featured in the Indian side’s defensive midfield in the Intercontinental Cup held in June this year.
With just two days remaining for the fifth edition of ISL to commence, we take a look at some of the youngsters who could grab eyeballs this year:
Komal Thatal, ATK
The confident youngster grabbed attention with his impressive skills in India’s first face-off in the U-17 World Cup. Dancing through the field with his quick passes, smooth dribbling and commendable first touch, Thatal battled through challenges. Although the Sikkimese footballer played just 90 minutes for the Young Colts, scouts were quick to seal his services as Thatal ditched developmental side Indian Arrows for a move to ATK.
The 2017-18 ISL season saw him gain only 14 minutes of game time, which makes the upcoming season one to look forward to. With the addition of star playmaker Manuel Lanzarote, Thatal could gain valuable lessons from the league’s proven attacker.
Bidyananda Singh, Bengaluru FC
Promoted from the B side to the senior team at the age of 20, Bidyananda Singh is one of the exciting names among Bengaluru FC’s medios this season. Having earlier plied his trade at ATK until two years ago, Bidyananada made a move to the Blues the following year. At Bengaluru, Bidyananda was highly rated by coach Naushad Moosa for his performances and dedication.
Recovering from an injury earlier this year, the young midfielder trained with the reserves side before joining the senior team on their pre-season trip to Spain. Starting 30 September, he will look to blossom under the tutelage of gaffer Carles Cuadrat, whose team boasts plenty of young names.
Ajay Chhetri, Bengaluru FC
Playing for Bengaluru FC in the U-18 Youth League, Ajay Chhetri emerged as one of the top names, courtesy his goal-scoring abilities. Last year, the youngster’s contribution was recognised by the club academy as he was awarded the best player in the U-18 category.
The 19-year-old midfielder can add to the squad’s depth and also pick up valuable tips training alongside the likes of Dimas Delgado, Erik Paartalu, et al.
Laldinliana Renthlei, Chennaiyin FC
Kicking off his career at local club Chhinga Venga in the Mizoram Premier League, Laldinliana Renthlei made his way to India’s top tier by featuring in the Aizawl FC squad last season. With a total of 18 appearances, including four matches in the AFC Cup, 20-year-old Renthlei emerged as a reliable member in Aizawl’s defensive line.
Operating as a full-back, Renthlei could take inspiration from fellow young Chennaiyin man Lalrinzuala. Also, Renthlei could be one for the future for the Marina Machans, owing to his potential, and experience at the continental level.
Shubham Sarangi, Delhi Dynamos
Nurtured at Delhi Dynamos FC’s partner Aspire Academy in Qatar, young boy Shubham Sarangi is ready to challenge for his place in the first XI. The four-month stint at Doha has polished his skills as the 18-year-old gears up for his debut ISL season.
Known for his ball distribution and presence inside the box, Sarangi can add fire to Delhi’s attack, playing either as an attacking midfielder or a centre-forward. Having missed out on the final squad for the U-17 World Cup, Sarangi will aim to make the most of his time at the Delhi club, in what could be the highest point in his career off late.
Liston Colaco, FC Goa
A product of Salgaocar FC, Liston Colaco rose to fame during the 2017 Santosh Trophy. Finding the net on multiple occasions and bagging assists for Goa in the tournament, Colaco was a standout player. Thanks to his display, FC Goa zeroed in on him, agreeing to pay a fee of Rs 15 lakh.
Joining the Gaurs in 2017, he made a total of just four appearances. However, Colaco, who was the top scorer of the Goa Professional League 2017 with 13 goals, has a lot to prove. With plenty of time ahead of him, the 19-year-old can turn into a deadly striker.
Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, Kerala Blasters FC
An exceptional performer for the Indian team at the U-17 World Cup, Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem will now feature in the Kerala Blasters FC squad. The 18-year-old shot-stopper portrays qualities of a polished goalkeeper — a trait which promises bigger things for him and the southern club.
After his trials at Scottish side, Motherwell FC, the young goalkeeper will play under the guidance of gaffer David James, who will look to include Dheeraj in his plans. Alert, acrobatic and animated at the goal-line, the Manipuri can punch above his weight.
Deependra Negi, Kerala Blasters FC
Aged 19, Deependra Negi can be an impactful substitute for Kerala Blasters FC, owing to his energy and fresh legs. The midfielder had become an instant favourite for the home crowd after he scored the equaliser and won the penalty-kick, which would see the Blasters knock down Delhi Dynamos on home soil, last season.
Functioning as a central midfielder or playing in an attacking role, Negi can also engage in playmaking if needed. Being signed midway through the 2017 season, the upcoming edition will be his first full season with Kerala.
Vignesh Dakshinamurthy, Mumbai City FC
One of Ozone FC’s crucial players in the 2nd Division League, Vignesh Dakshinamurthy put pen to paper for Mumbai City FC this season. Signed as a prospect for the future, Vignesh has been a part of the national team’s age-group sides from the last three years.
A product of the Ozone Academy, Vignesh is also the nephew of Shanmugam Venkatesh, who is the assistant coach of senior men’s national team. Under Alexandre Guimaraes, youngsters like Davinder Singh and Pranjal Bhumij were gifted game time; it will be interesting to see if newly appointed Jorge Costa would entertain the 20-year-old in the same way.
Lalthathanga Khawlhring, NorthEast United FC
Representing Aizawl FC in I-League, Lalthathanga Khawlhring played on the left-side of the midfield for the Reds. Bagging the honours for being the best midfielder in the 2015 Mizoram Premier League, Khawlhring was an important member at local club Bethlehem Vengthlang.
With learnings from his time at Aizawl in I-League and AFC Cup, Khawlhring can contribute to the playmaking at NorthEast United as the side undergo a revamp with Eelco Schattorie at the helm.
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Updated Date: Sep 27, 2018 15:10:20 IST