The Indian Super League (ISL) has been the perfect breeding ground for young players since its inception. If Sandesh Jhingan and Romeo Fernandes were the bright spots in the first season, Thongkhosiem Haokip and Jeje Lalpekhlua stole the spotlight in the second. Chennaiyin FC’s Jerry Lalrinzuala was the standout youngster in the third season.
In the previous ISL season, FC Pune City’s Sarthak Golui and Sahil Panwar, Kerala Blasters’ Lalruatthara and Chennaiyin FC’s Anirudh Thapa earned the plaudits for lighting up the pitch with their string of impressive performances.
There has been a remarkable shift in the transfer policy in the Indian transfer market. While most ISL teams have been reluctant to spend big on marquee players they have not shied away from splurging the cash on future stars. While 17-year old defender Anwar Ali was snapped up by Mumbai City FC for Rs 30 lakhs, a record-breaking amount for an U-18 player, Chennaiyin were prudent enough to sign Abhijit Sarkar, Deepak Tangri and Rahim Ali. ATK have signed up Boris Singh.
All these players will only join the ISL outfits ahead of the 2019-20 season as they will continue with their development with Indian Arrows under the watchful eyes of Floyd Pinto.
Leaving aside the U-19 players there has also been a mass exodus of promising players from several I-League clubs to ISL who are keen to make a mark in the top tier of Indian football. SK Faiaz put in impressive shifts for Mohun Bagan in I-League 2017-18 and was signed by ATK. Similarly, Sinivasan Pandiyan and Michael Soosairaj of Chennai City FC made a move for greener pastures as they were roped in by Chennaiyin FC and Jamshedpur FC.
There are several players who will be plying their trade in ISL 5 who have shown promise at various other domestic tournaments and are now ready to take that leap to establish themselves in the ISL.
Let us look at the 10 youngsters who will be making their debut and can be expected to shine this season:
1. SK Faiaz (ATK)
The 23-year-old winger had put in stellar performances for Mohun Bagan in the previous edition of I-League. Although he was predominantly used on the right wing, the Howrah-born winger was comfortable plying his trade on both flanks. He has pace to burn and the tricks up his sleeves often give the full backs a run for their money. He notched up four assists and two goals for the Maroon and Greens during the 1197 minutes he spent on the pitch. He is expected to challenge ATK’s Hitesh Sharma for a starting berth who had been a regular for Teddy Sheringham and later under Ashley Westwood.
2. Michael Soosairaj (Jamshedpur FC)
The former Chennai City FC attacking midfielder was one of the best players in I-League 2017-18 and has been signed by Jamshedpur FC. The Tamil Nadu born player was the midfield dynamo for the men in green and his creativity proved to be decisive in unlocking gritty opposition defences. He provided 19 successful key passes in 18 appearances which is amongst the highest in the league. His partnership with Sinivasan Pandiyan was one of the few positives for the Coimbatore based side as they finished eighth in the league table. Soosairaj should be the perfect fit for head coach Cesar Ferrando.
3. Kivi Zhimomi (North East United FC)
Kivi Zhimomi became the first player from Nagaland to sign for an ISL outfit when he joined NorthEast United FC ahead of this season. He forged a well oiled partnership with Henry Kisekka upfront with Gokulam Kerala and found the net on two occasions which included a strike against Kolkata giants East Bengal. Under the guidance of Eelco Schattorie, Arthur Papas and Avram Grant the forward is touted to make further improvements in his game to help NEUFC secure their first play-off spot in five seasons. He has previously played for Mohammedan Sporting Club at Kolkata and Rangdajied United FC at Shillong.
4. Shubham Sarangi (Delhi Dynamos)
The 18-year-old forward was signed by Delhi Dynamos in the January transfer window of 2017 and was immediately sent out on a training stint with the Aspire Academy to further his football development. He was part of the India’s preparatory squad for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup but the youngster ultimately did not make the cut for Luis Norton de Matos’ final squad for the marquee event. Josep Gombau’s possession-based brand of football is tailor-made for the young forward and he hopes to establish himself firmly in Delhi’s squad this season.
5. Vignesh Dakshinamurthy (Mumbai City FC)
The 20-year-old had been the midfield general for Ozone FC and was an integral figure behind the Bengaluru based side’s brilliant run in the 2nd division I-League. Vignesh has been with the national team’s age-group sides for the past three years right from his Under-17 days. He spent the first three years in the Ozone Academy and then broke into the first team, aged just seventeen. The Islanders have snapped him up as he looks to have a promising future ahead. He can play as a left-half.
6. Raynier Fernandes (Mumbai City)
Mumbai City have signed another promising midfielder in Raynier Fernandes who was an important cog at the centre of the park for Mohun Bagan. Fernandes, along with Yuta Kinowaki and Cameron Watson, provided stability to Bagan’s midfield and was equally confident in moving forward with the ball. He also oozes confidence as a defensive screen which allows greater freedom to his more attack-minded team-mates. The 22-year old completed 599 passes in I-league last season with an accuracy of 84% which is a testimony to his brilliant passing ability.
7. Sairuat Kima (Bengaluru FC)
The 20-year-old defender was picked up by Jamshedpur FC in the previous edition of ISL but is yet to make a start in the league, albeit was given a start in the Super Cup tie against FC Goa. A product of Mizoram-based Chanmari FC, he made his top tier debut with DSK Shivajians in 2016-17 season. The lanky defender has joined Bengaluru FC this season where he will have to struggle for a starting place with veteran campaigners like Juanan and Albert Serran. It remains to be seen if he will make his ISL debut for Bengaluru FC.
8. Redeem Tlang (NEUFC)
The 23-year-old winger has become a household name in the domestic circuit for his exploits with Shillong Lajong for the last couple of seasons. He is known for his inch-perfect crosses from the flanks and also has a knack to score important goals. He has the experience to succeed at the highest level and under the guidance of master tacticians like Avram Grant and Schattorie, the youngster is set to be an important weapon in NEUFC’s armoury.
9. Sinivasan Pandiyan (Chennaiyin FC)
Sinivasan Pandiyan joined Chennaiyin FC at the back of an impressive season with Chennai City FC in I-League. His exceptional passing ability kept Chennai’s midfield ticking. With 86 per cent success rate in ball distribution, he was one of the orchestrators at the centre of the park for V Soundararajan. He now has to step up to the plate and impress coach John Gregory who is known to demand huge workrate from his players.
10. Jithin MS (Kerala Blasters)
Jithin MS scripted history Kerala Blasters paid Rs. 5 lakh as a transfer fee to Kerala FC to sign him on a three-year deal. The Thrissur-born player was lethal in the attacking third for Kerala state team in the Santosh Trophy and was the joint top scorer in the tournament. His goalmouth exploits helped Kerala lift the trophy after 14 years as they beat West Bengal in Kolkata. Although it will not be easy for Jithin to break into the starting XI from the onset, but he has the firepower to make an impact in the ISL.