Since its institution, the Indian Super League (ISL) has seen many top U-23 players emerge and establish themselves. A number of them have also gone on to don India colors.
Sandesh Jhingan was named ISL Emerging Player of the Year 2014. Since then, the defender has soared ahead. Other noteworthy prizewinners of the award include Sahal Abdul Samad, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Lalengmawia Ralte and Sumit Rathi. They have also proved to be crucial for their clubs.
7 Indians will make the starting XI from the new season with youngsters anticipated to get more opportunities. Games will be rolling in quick at the season’s business end and there will be opportunities aplenty.
The likes of Rahim Ali and Vikram Pratap Singh were in red hot form with the India U-23 side. Without a doubt, they will be raring to go on the largest platform in Indian domestic football.
Here is a list of Players to Watch in ISL 2021/22.
Rahim Ali (Chennaiyin FC)
Rahim Ali will be heading into this ISL in top form. Under Igor Stimac, he has flourished in the Indian team and would want to recreate that form. In the friendlies against Nepal, he was lively and sharp in attack and was brilliant in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers.
Previously, he registered over 1000-minutes for Chennaiyin FC but only scored twice. However, this time around Ali will be looking to be sharper in front of goal.
Deepak Tangri (ATK Mohun Bagan)
It is little known Deepak Tangri is a Mohun Bagan academy graduate. Deepak sharpened his skills under Jo Paul Ancheri’s tutelage at ATKMB’s SAIL Academy, Durgapur. Joining the Indian Arrows further boosted him and in summer 2021, he left Chennaiyin FC for Mohun Bagan.
Being adaptable, Tangri is capable of operating at defensive midfield as well as centre back. In the AFC U23 Asian Cup Qualifiers, he put up eye-catching displays in India’s backline. With the herald of the new season, he will be eager o cement a starting spot in the ATK Mohun Bagan squad.
Amarjit Singh Kiyam (East Bengal)
Joining the list of top U-23 players is Amarjit Singh Kiyam. Some time ago, he was labelled one of the country’s best youngsters. Debuting in the King’s Cup, Thailand 2019, he was the first player 2000 born players to make a debut for India. Unfortunately, injuries hampered him. Nonetheless, things are looking good for him under East Bengal boss Manuel Diaz.
Previously at Real Madrid Castilla, Diaz helped players like Mariano Diaz, Lucas Vasquez and Diego Llorente rise to fame. Needless to say, Amarjit will be on his toes to pick up a few things from the accomplished Spaniard.
Suresh Singh Wangjam (Bengaluru FC)
Hailing from Manipur, the defensive midfielder is one of Indian football’s top talents. He is crucial in Bengaluru FC’s starting XI, features regularly for India and captains the India U-23 team. Energetic and quick, he covers nearly every inch of the pitch. Coupled with his ability to halt attacks, he carries the ball very well.
Narender Gahlot (Jamshedpur FC)
Gahlot, playing as a centre-half, displayed his composure in tough situations during the AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers. Partnering with Deepak Tangri in the backline, the pair have proved to solid. This should come as a delight to Jamshedpur boss Owen Coyle.
However in the previous campaign, he picked up an injury in the initial stages which sidelined him. Gahlot did manage to stage a return but his performances were unconvincing. It is now up to the defender to make an impact and fight for a spot in the Indian senior side.
Dheeraj Singh (FC Goa)
A strong case can be made for the youngster being India’s best player at the AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers. Playing in goal, he produced a number of splendid saves to keep India in the competition. He continued his run of fine form into the AFC Champions League group stages for FC Goa.
Singh is excellent in one-on-one cases and a fine shot-stopper. His superb reflexes allow him to stand alongside the best. The young keeper still needs a little refining and with it, he can take over from Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
Asish Rai (Hyderabad FC)
Hyderabad FC’s youngster has huge potential to be a future star. Rai had a couple of fine showings with the India U-23 side (October) and is eager to lace up his boots once more. The defender registered more than 1500 minutes previously prior to suffering an injury.
The talented wing-back is rigid defensively and also overlaps down the flanks to aid in attack. Boss Manuel Marquez rates Rai very highly and termed him as ‘the most improved player‘ last term.
Rochharzela (NorthEast United FC)
Following a string of fine showings for NEUFC, Rochharzela has become an absolute fan-favorite. He grabbed the Best Young Player Award in Mizoram Premier League in 2017-18. He penned a contract with the Highlanders after a 3-year spell with the People’s Club.
The attacking midfielder did not see regular play-time under Khalid Jamil. However, he still bagged a goal and 2 assists last term. As more Indians make the starting XI, he Rochharzela can see more minutes.
Rahul KP (Kerala Blasters)
From 2017, the winger has been making his rounds in the domestic circuit. Bidding adieu to Indian Arrows, he signed for Kerala Blasters for a few years now. With each season, the wide-man developed as a player and his time to rise to the occasion might be near. He recorded more than 1000 minutes in Blasters’ colors previously but only managed 3 goals. If the winger keeps his calm in front of goal, he can be a “blue-eyed boy” of the Kerala fans.
With lots of pace to burn, excellent ball control and flair for beating defenders, he possesses all the requisites to be one of the best. Rahul shone brightly for the India Under-23 side. Kerala Blasters boss Ivan Vukomanovic will attempt to make the most of him this season.
Akshunna Tyagi (Odisha FC)
In the previous edition of the AIFF Elite League, Tyagi netted a brilliant 20 goals in 14 games. Needless to say, it earned him a call-up to the senior team. Another product of the Mohun Bagan SAIL Academy, he moved to Odisha FC’s youth side.
Akshunna Tyagi has been sharp as ever in front of goal. He has shown plenty of potential to join the list of most promising forwards in India. Led by Kiko Ramirez, he is anticipated to explode onto the scene.
Vikram Pratap Singh (Mumbai City FC)
Without a doubt, Vikram Pratap Singh was India’s finest on-field player at the AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers. He was exquisite on the right-flank and created a host of chances. He finest performance came versus Oman, wherein he gifted India a penalty following a dazzling run. Eventually, he found the net as well.
He did not see many minutes in the ISL last term. However, he visibly used all the training sessions under Sergio Lobera well. Vikram possesses good ball control, makes sharp runs into the area and engineers openings for his forwards with great vision. Des Buckingham has a real asset in his contingent. He can be a true gem for Mumbai City on receiving adequate backing from the coach.
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