Indian football: Likely mainstays next decade

The young Indian footballers, who have debuted after 2015, have rubbed shoulders with some of the seasoned overseas campaigners and hold immense promise for the future.

At just 22, Anirudh Thapa has emerged as the midfield mainstay in the Indian team.   -  AIFF Media

The standard of Indian football has improved in the second half of the decade with the inception of the Indian Super League (ISL). The young Indian footballers, who have made their debuts after 2015, have had the opportunity to develop by rubbing shoulders with some of the seasoned campaigners from abroad. Some of these young players have also undergone exposure trips across age groups.

Sportstar takes a look at the U-23 footballers who could take India forward in the next decade.

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Mohammad Nawaz (Goalkeeper)

The teenage shot-stopper has a calm head on his young shoulder. Although he stands at 5’9”, he has a strong command of his box playing for his club side FC Goa. He has good technical ability on the ball and is composed while playing out from the back. In his first season at the club, the 18-year-old Nawaz made 17 appearances, spurring the club to the Super Cup title.

Mohammad Nawaz is a big fan of German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.   -  ISL / SPORTZPICS


Nishu Kumar (Right-back)

While usually deployed in the left-back role for his club side Bengaluru FC, Nishu is more than capable of playing in the opposite wing as he has shown on many occasions over the last two years. Although just 22, he has racked up over 75 appearances for his club and has won both the Indian Super League and Super Cup titles.

Nishu Kumar during the national team training camp in New Delhi.   -  AIFF MEDIA


Gaurav Bora (Centre-back)

After struggling to find a breakthrough at FC Pune City, Bora became a regular in the Chennai City FC XI as it scripted a spectacular I-League triumph in 2019. Under the guidance of the experienced Roberto Eslava, Bora developed into a first-choice centre-back at the Coimbatore-based club.

Gaurva Bora (centre) was the hero in Chennai City's 3-1 win over Punjab FC in the title decider. PHOTO: S. SIVA SARAVANAN


The youngster’s crowning moment came when he scored two goals in the final day of the season, powering Chennai City to the silverware.

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Narender Gahlot (Centre-back)

After impressing with Indian Arrows in the I-League, Gahlot earned a call-up with the senior national team. Head coach Igor Stimac praised the teenager’s physical abilities and endurance level, comparing them to those of top European players. The towering centre-back made his senior debut during the Intercontinental Cup where he scored his maiden goal in the 1-1 draw against Syria.

Narender Gahlot scores with a header to give India the lead against Syria.   -  Twitter @IndianFootball


Jerry Lalrinzuala (Left-back)

Jerry’s progress was stunted last year but he will hope to regain the form which was key to Chennaiyin's title-winning campaign in 2018. Voted the ISL Emerging Player of the 2016 season, the attacking left-back suffered a setback last year, resulting in him missing most of the 2018-19 season.

Anirudh Thapa (Midfielder)

Thapa has been among one of the most technically gifted midfielders to have emerged towards the latter half of this decade. Thapa, who made his India debut under former coach Stephen Constantine in 2017, was central to the Englishman's plans heading into the Asian Cup at the start of 2019. The Dehradun-born footballer is tipped to become the next captain of the national team by his former Chennaiyin FC boss John Gregory.

Amarjit Singh Kiyam (Midfielder)

The skipper of India’s U-17 World Cup campaign in 2017, Amarjit led the Indian Arrows in the I-League for the last two seasons. With the new senior team coach Stimac taking charge in May, Amarjit made his senior Indian team bow during the Kings Cup where the 18-year-old impressed in the defensive midfield role.

Amarjit Singh Kiyam makes his debut for India.   -  AIFF


A shoulder injury suffered in August sidelined him for over three months during which he missed the first half of India’s World Cup qualifiers and Jamshedpur FC’s start to the ISL season.

Udanta Singh (Right winger)

Nicknamed ‘the Flash’ because of his blistering pace, the 23-year-old winger has been a regular presence on the right flank for both club and country in the latter half of this decade, thanks to his tireless running.

Sahal Abdul Samad (Attacking midfielder)

Sahal is an easy-on-the-eye midfielder who has the ability to dribble past defenders and help turn defence into attack. His performances at Kerala Blasters last season earned him the ISL Emerging player of the year award before he broke into the national team in 2019. With the right set-up around him, Sahal could become a key member of the Indian team in the years to come.

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Ashique Kuruniyan (Left winger)

Ashique Kuruniyan's roots as a sprinter are all too evident in the pace he brings to the sides he plays for.   -  ISL/SPORTZPICS


Sprinter-turned-footballer, Ashique has made rapid strides in the last few years at both the club and the international level. Ashique’s stunning display in the first 45 minutes of India’s opening match of the World Cup qualifier against Oman remains one of the brightest moments of the decade for Indian football. With time on his side, the Malapuram-born winger will likely go on to become a potent attacking threat in the national team.

Aniket Jadhav (Forward)

Another World Cupper from the U-17 batch of 2017, Aniket took the next big step of his fledgeling career when he made his ISL bow for Jamshedpur this season. Under the tutelage of Antonio Iriondo, Jadhav is afforded the freedom to showcase his individual brilliance in the attacking third of the pitch. The 19-year-old opened his goal-scoring account with a stunning strike and will be hoping to rise up the ranks for both club and country in the next decade.

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