I-League clubs are required to have at least 1 U-23 player in the starting line-up and 2 in the squad. While this may be perceived as a bane by club managers who would rather focus on playing their strongest XI, it ensures an emphasis on acquisition and development of India’s young footballers. This week’s edition focuses on Jackichand Singh, Shankar Sampingiraj, Seityasen Singh, and Lalthuammawia Ralte.
Shankar Sampingiraj | Bengaluru FC | 20 | Midfielder
Shankar Sampingiraj and Siam Hanghal were back from their spell with the India U-23 team after a disappointing AFC Championship qualification tournament. The former, who is enjoying a solid season at club level, found a spot on the bench with Thoi Singh and Eugeneson Lyngdoh selected as the 2 pressing midfielders alongside Joshua Walker. However, with his side 2-1 down Ashley Westwood turned to the 20 year-old to replace Thoi Singh who had a below par game.
Shankar repaid the manager’s faith within 6 minutes of coming on as he rose to head home Lyngdoh’s free kick and make the score 2-2. The youngster who scored his first goal for Bengaluru FC in dramatic fashion against Maziya, made an impressive second half appearance and should feature from the start against Mumbai FC on Tuesday.
The midfielder did well to provide energy in midfield and distributed the ball well as both sides looked to take all 3 points from a thrilling game. The 20 year-old stuck to simple passes but was important in recycling possession as the game was stretched.
Deployed initially as a pressing midfielder, Shankar was dropped deeper as the game wore on with Walker given more freedom to bomb forward and link the midfield and attack. Despite having only 40 minutes to impress, the former Pailan Arrows player once again proved that he’s a more than useful squad player for the Champions and could prove to play a central role in the second half of the campaign.
Jackichand Singh | Royal Wahingdoh | 23 | Left Winger
The diminutive 23 year-old has certainly been making a name for himself in what is his first season in the I-League. He caught the eye in the Federation Cup and has continued his good form in the league and was deservedly called up to the national side for the qualifiers against Nepal. Royal Wahingdoh have been this season’s surprise package in the I-League and much of their attacking thrust is provided by the wingers.
The Shillong based side play an attacking 4-3-3 formation with Jackichand, or Jacki which is the name displayed on his shirt, taking up one of the wider roles. Despite being the away side against the defending Champions, Santosh Kashyap stuck to his guns and the front 3’s contribution to the game was mostly in an attacking sense. The wingers in particular were not part of any organized pressing scheme nor were they tasked with taking up deeper positions and marking the overlapping full-backs. Free of defensive responsibilities, the India international focused his efforts on attack and was heavily involved in the same. However, one hopes that Jackichand will develop defensive aspects of his game to not only further his personal development but also to prove to be an option for Stephen Constantine.
On the ball, the youngster proved to be a handful for the Bengaluru FC defence throughout the night with his direct style and quick feet. The 23 year-old may not be physically imposing but he makes up for it with technical ability, something he showed on multiple occasions in the game as he skipped past Rino Anto and John Johnson a number of times. Playing on the left, the youngster was always looking to drift in-field and either link up with Bekay Bawar or test the goalkeeper from range. He showed he had the confidence to let fly when an opportunity presented itself and was involved in the build-up of the first 2 Royal Wahingdoh goals.
Despite his obvious ability on the ball, Jacki is not a finished product by far. As you’d expect from a young player who hasn’t had that much exposure to the highest level in domestic football, his decision making sometimes lacks maturity. If he can add a bit of intelligence to his game to go along with the technical ability, he can become an important player for both club and country. He also is a bit static at times when supporting the attack and can improve his movement especially when the left-back is joining the attack.
Lalthuammawia Ralte | Bengaluru FC | 21 | Goalkeeper
There’s been plenty of consternation around the goalkeeping position at Bengaluru FC with last season’s number 1 Pawan Kumar having to play second fiddle to new signing Mawia Ralte who joined the club from Shillong Lajong. Mawia has been entrusted with the starting position throughout the Federation Cup and the I-League despite having a shaky start at Bengaluru FC.
The 21 year-old seemed a bit low on confidence at the start of the season with the 4-1 demolition at the hands of Mohun Bagan a low point. However, the keeper has justified the faith placed in him by Ashley Westwood and had been in a rich vein of form heading into the game.
Conceding 3 goals at home is not ideal but it would be unfair to pinpoint blame on the young keeper. He was beaten by a penalty early on and had little chance to save either Godwin Franco’s piledriver or Reagan Singh’s deflected effort.
In what was an entertaining game, Mawia didn’t do much wrong when it came to distribution of the ball and made a few comfortable saves throughout the game. A late save to thwart Bekay Bawar was the pick of the bunch. The former Lajong player did have a shaky moment early in the second half though as he fumbled Kim’s shot and was lucky that the ball bounced back off the crossbar.
Seityasen Singh | Royal Wahingdoh | 23 | Right Winger
As the game headed into the final half an hour, Santosh Kashyap chose to withdraw Kim Seong-Yong and replace him with Seityasen Singh. If we were to broadly classify all footballers, then there’s no doubt that both Seityasen Singh and Jackichand Singh would fit into the same category of tricky wingers.
Like his peer on the opposite wing, Seityasen was full of energy and trickery but had the added advantage of entering the fray on the hour mark with both sides searching for a winner which meant that the game was stretched. Being left-footed, he had a natural disposition towards cutting in-field once again in a manner akin to the Jacki on the opposite wing.
Seityasen ticked all the right boxes in his brief appearance as he continuously looked to take up central positions in the space between defence and midfield. He was also not shy when it came to taking on the opposition full-back and treated the crowd to a few fancy step overs.
Once he came on in the second half, most of Wahingdoh’s attacks came down the right and it came as no surprise when their late equalizer came down that flank albeit in a somewhat fortunate manner. Half an hour in an end to end game is not an ideal sample but the young player certainly showed some positive attributes.