ISL spotlight on future India stars
Sandesh Jhingan, Eugeneson Lyngdoh, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Udanta Singh and Anas Edathodika—some of the most expensive buys this Indian Super League (ISL) season—were all handed their national team debut over the last three years by national coach Stephen Constantine. Ever since, all five players have notched up a respectable number of achievements.
Now that we are into the second half of the league (17 November-4 March), it’s time to list some of the most improved Indian players who could become regulars in the national team.
Souvik Chakrabarti, Jamshedpur FC, right-back
With 1,350 minutes of playing time under his belt, Chakrabarti has started every game for Jamshedpur FC this season. Calm and composed, he isn’t the most attacking full-back in the league but his sense of positioning is impressive, as is his ability to read the game.
More importantly, Chakrabarti offers what many Indian players don’t—versatility. While he has usually operated as a right-back, the 26-year-old has also ably played as a left-back and a defensive midfielder.
It was former Delhi Dynamos coach Roberto Carlos who first deployed Chakrabarti as a right-back in 2015. Since then, his growth as a defender has been meteoric.
A product of the Mohun Bagan SAIL Football Academy, he spent a major part of his career with the Kolkata giants before arriving at Jamshedpur.
Dhanpal Ganesh, Chennaiyin FC, midfielder
It took Ganesh three seasons with Chennaiyin FC to get a game—in November, against NorthEast United FC. The defensive midfielder has since been a regular starter for the southern outfit.
Multiple injury spells in the past have meant he was forced to the sidelines for extended periods. This season, though, Ganesh has made improvements.
At 6ft, 1 inch, Ganesh is an imposing figure who can break up play. Through his ability to remain unflustered when hounded in possession (around 73% passing accuracy), Ganesh helps Chennaiyin effectively transition from defence to attack. Doubts still remain over the timing and execution of his tackles, though.
He’s got seven yellow cards in 10 games, the highest in the league.
Since he made his national debut against Nepal in 2015, Ganesh has struggled to retain his place. But Constantine appreciates his role in the team, provided he remains injury free.
Jerry Mawihmingthanga, Jamshedpur FC, winger
The diminutive Mawihmingthanga (5ft, 3 inches) loves hugging the right-side touchline, and understandably so. For it’s where he excels.
From making just a single appearance for NorthEast United last season to nailing down a place in the starting XI at Jamshedpur FC, Mawihmingthanga’s rise shows what wonders a change in manager can achieve.
On 17 January, he scored his first ISL goal against Kerala Blasters, and did so within 22 seconds of the match starting—the fastest goal in the league’s history.
With three assists in 13 outings, he experiences a lot of success charging forward. Hyperactive but a tad erratic, Mawihmingthanga has a tendency to make things happen in the final third of the pitch.
Brandon Fernandes, FC Goa, midfielder
In a team where foreign recruits have done most of the heavy lifting, Fernandes has been the brightest Indian talent for FC Goa. With four assists in eleven matches, the 23-year-old is the only Indian among the top 5 in assists this season (ranked 3).
Fernandes’ fluid and unpredictable movement off the ball enables him to occupy intelligent positions in the opposition half.
His 2012-13 trial stint with the English Premier League club Leicester City FC has probably helped him. During this two-week test period, he trained alongside England internationals Jamie Vardy and Jesse Lingard.
“I was young at that point of time, so everything was a learning experience. Every time I was on the field, I made the most of it,” he says through the team’s media manager.
Fernandes has played a vital role in FC Goa’s season so far—his contract extension with the club until 2020 stands testimony to this.
Jerry Lalrinzuala, Chennaiyin FC, left-back
Unlike other players on this list, Jerry Lalrinzuala’s rise has been steady. Having joined Chennaiyin FC last year, the left-back has been part of the nucleus of the squad from the very beginning.
Never one to lunge into rash tackles, the 19-year-old’s approach this season has been calculated. Not only is he miserly at the back in conceding goals, he is extremely threatening in the opposition half and regularly whips in dangerous crosses from the left wing.
The player from Mizoram is adept at manoeuvring himself out of tight spaces, a trait every top-class defender must possess. Lalrinzuala has started every game for Chennaiyin this season (14), and, having made his India debut in June against Nepal, looks certain to be a long-term option for the national side.