At the end of the 2017-18 Indian Super League season, it is time for us at Outside of the Boot to recognize the accomplishments of tomorrow’s stars under our Talent Radar banner, with the U-23 Indian Team of the Season feature.
Chennaiyin overcame favourites Bengaluru in the final at the Kanteerava Stadium to draw the 2017-18 edition of the Indian Super League to a close. The new rule that meant six Indian players had to be on the pitch at all times, as opposed to five last season, has predictably proven beneficial to the development of young Indian talent. One wonders whether enforcing the 3+1 foreign player quota followed in AFC competitions could lead to more young players being given a chance but that’s a debate for another day.
Vishal Kaith // Pune City // 21 // Goalkeeper: Vishal Kaith had a steady season at Shillong Lajong in the last I-League campaign but went under the radar thanks to compatriot Albino Gomes’ contribution to Aizawl’s fairytale success. This ISL though saw the 21-year-old stamp his credentials as one of India’s top young ‘keepers. His seven clean sheets and forty five saves were instrumental in Pune’s best ever ISL campaign. An error in the second leg of the semi-final against Bengaluru may have taken some sheen off his performances but it should not detract from what was a very good season for the custodian.
Sarthak Golui // Pune City // 20 // Right-Back: Another youngster to shine in the Pune defence was 20 year-old Sarthak Golui. The right-back had a steady season with some eye-catching performances at the Balewadi, enough to impress Stephen Constantine, who included him in the list of probables for the upcoming fixture against Kyrgyz Republic. The 20-year-old was solid defensively with thirty four tackles and forty nine clearances throughout the season. He also contributed in attack, as you’d expect from all modern full-backs, with three assists and a goal to his name.
Lalruatthara // Kerala Blasters // 23 // Centre-Back: Kerala Blasters had a forgettable season overall but one of their shining lights was young Lalruatthara. The 23-year-old was a constant fixture in the defence under both Rene Meulensteen and David James. Starting the season at left-back, the former Aizawl man slotted in seamlessly in James’ back 3. With eighty five tackles and fifty nine clearances over the course of the campaign, the defender bagged the Emerging Player of the Season award.
Subhashish Bose // Bengaluru // 22 // Centre-Back: Another versatile player, Bose mostly played as a left-back for the Blues but has shown that he’s comfortable in a more central role as well especially in a three man defence. Picked up by Bengaluru relatively early in the draft, Bose should be happy with his contribution in his first season at the club. He’s proven to be a competent defender with fifty nine clearances and a passing accuracy of nearly 72%. The youngster could well be suited to a more central role in the long term, especially considering the number of left-backs India have coming through at the moment.
Jerry Lalrinzuala // Chennaiyin // 19 // Left-Back: One of the most exciting prospects in Indian football, Jerry enhanced his burgeoning reputation over the course of the season. The consistency of the back four laid the base for Chennaiyin’s success this season and Jerry made the left-back position his own. The 19-year-old is the epitome of a modern full-back as he looks at ease bombing forward while also having the pace to recover in defensive transitions. Fifty six tackles also shows that the diminutive full-back is not shy of getting stuck in.
Anirudh Thapa // Chennaiyin // 20 // Central Midfielder: Another one of Chennaiyin’s success stories, Anirudh Thapa had a good season in the middle of the park for the eventual Champions. Despite having to play second fiddle to the first choice duo of Dhanpal Ganesh and Bikramjit Singh, the 20-year-old impressed during the minutes he did get on the pitch. Looking comfortable on the ball, a quality not often seen in young Indian players, Thapa’s technical ability has impressed onlookers. Thapa’s crucial away goal against Goa in the first leg of the semifinal set the second leg up for Chennaiyin as they went all the way to clinch the title. He’ll have to toughen up when it comes to the physical aspect of the game given his position but is definitely one to watch going forward.
Vinit Rai // Delhi Dynamos // 20 // Central Midfielder: Alongside Thapa in midfield is Delhi Dynamos’ Vinit Rai. Delhi had a woeful start to the campaign before rallying in the second half of the season but even when they were losing, keeping the ball wasn’t a problem. Despite making only 13 appearances, Rai registered as many as 765 passes at an impressive accuracy of 85%. The 20-year-old tends to drop deep and recycle possession, once again a quality the senior national team seems to lack in recent times.
Udanta Singh // Bengaluru // 21 // Right Winger: Udanta Singh is a name that needs no introduction to fans of Indian football. Having broken into the national side already, Udanta has become an important cog in the Bengaluru machine. The speedy winger registered a league-high seven assists (joint highest with Marcelinho) as Bengaluru walked the league stage of the competition. A return of a solitary goal is disappointing but his pace on the counter and width that he offers the team makes his inclusion a no-brainer.
Brandon Fernandes // Goa // 23 // Attacking Midfielder: A lethal attack and leaky defence made Sergio Lobera’s Goa the most entertaining team to watch in the league this season. The headlines may have belonged to Ferran Corominas and Manuel Lanzarote but Brandon Fernandes was impressive in his own right. The likes of Lallianzuala Chhangte could have made the team but Brandon makes the cut since he offers something different with a focus on technical ability rather than pure speed.
Jerry Mawihmingthanga // Jamshedpur // 21 // Left Winger: Beating out fellow DSK Shivajians graduate Chhangte, Jerry Mawihmingthanga stood out for a Jamshedpur team that found goals hard to come by throughout the season. Seemingly tireless, the 21-year-old featured heavily in Steve Coppell’s team in their first season of existence. Jamshedpur was not an easy fixture for any side with their defensive organization. Jerry’s incredible work-rate was crucial to their fortunes as he ran up and down the flank and with three assists, he was the provider-in-chief for the club.
Nandhakumar Sekar // Delhi Dynamos // 22 // Striker: Keeping up with tactical trends, we’ve opted for a false 9 in the form of Nandhakumar. In truth, there weren’t many options apart from Sumeet Passi who is far from a convincing choice. Coming back to Nandhakumar, the 22-year-old was initially signed on loan from Chennai City before Delhi decided to sign him on a permanent deal. Playing mostly on the wing, Nandha played a pivotal role in Delhi’s improvement in the second half of the season with four assists and a goal in nine appearances.
All statistics courtesy Indian Super League