The Indian Super League, since its start in 2014, has historically seen the rise of multiple stars in Indian football – be it Sahal Abdul Samad, Lalthathanga Khawlhring or Liston Colaco.
In this ISL season, Bengaluru FC and ATK Mohun Bagan progressed to the final, navigating their way past Mumbai City FC and Hyderabad FC respectively through penalty shootouts.
One of the most exciting Indians among the four has been Sivasakthi Narayanan, BFC’s secret to success. But he was not the only one who impressed this season, with several Indians shining for their respective sides throughout the season.
Ahead of the ISL final, Sportstar looks at five Indian players who made a significant mark this season.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
Bengaluru FC’s miraculous revival to reach the final was founded on a steady-as-a-rock defence, marshalled by its goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
With Sunil Chhetri losing out on a starting role, Gurpreet also had to carry the mantle of captaincy as Bengaluru went on to register a 10-game winning streak to qualify for the playoff and then knock Kerala Blasters and Mumbai City out to enter the final.
The India international has made a league-leading 67 saves and made the crucial save during the penalty shootout against Mumbai City in the semifinal.
After bursting into the scene in Bengaluru FC’s Durand Cup win, Sivasakthi Narayan took his time to settle in his maiden ISL season.
It didn’t help that Bengaluru was going through a torrid run of form, with no fluidity up front. Indian legend Sunil Chettri was a shadow of himself, while new signing Roy Krishna taking his time to get his feet sorted.
But once Simon Grayson cracked the ideal setup for the side, BFC set on an incredible winning streak, culminating in a spot in the final.
A key ingredient to Bengaluru’s revival is the goal scoring prowess of Sivasakthi, who succeeded in replacing Chettri up top. The 22-year-old attacker has formed a lethal partnership with Krishna, scoring six goals in process.
Bengaluru will be hoping its young attacker will continue his magical touch as it looks to reclaim the ISL title it last won 2019.
Naorem Mahesh Singh
The lone bright spot in yet another disappointing campaign for East Bengal was the performance of its young attacker Naorem Mahesh Singh.
Despite his side finishing second-to-last in the table with just 19 points, Mahesh racked up seven assists and is currently second in the league tally for it. The 23-year-old Manipur-born attacker struck a solid partnership with Cleiton Silva, with four of his seven assists being finished off by the Brazilian attacker.
Mahesh’s standout performance of the season was during his side’s 3-1 away win over Jamshedpur FC, where he recorded three assists.
Lallianzuala Chhangte for long was considered to be a nearly-there player in the Indian football circles. Despite possessing an incredible attacking skillset, Chhangte’s decision-making, and inability to deliver when it mattered, dragged his stock down.
But this was the season where he finally let go of of that particular baggage as he went on to power a seemingly all-conquering Mumbai side.
Chhangte was irrepressible along the wings and with a sharpened eye for finding the target. He scored 10 goals, the most by an Indian this season.
The 25-year old attacker formed a stirring partnership with Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Bipin Singh, while setting up six assists for his teammates.
After establishing himself as one of the best attacking wing-backs in India under Manolo Marquez in Hyderabad, Asish Rai switched his allegiance to ATK Mohun Bagan this season.
His side had a topsy-turvy campaign, with cruising wins followed by crushing defeats. But the Mariners found their feet at the right time, qualifying for the play-off by finishing third and then toppling Odisha FC and Hyderabad on their way to the final.
A key factor for its strong season was the balance provided by Rai, whose importance is marked by the fact he has completed more interception (53) than anyone in the league.
Rai was a critical figure in ATKMB’s attacking threat as his bombarding runs down the right opening spaces for other attackers. The 24-year-old also completed 30 tackles and has an assist to his account.