ISL 2020-21: Seven youngsters to watch in the seventh season

The seventh season of the Indian Super League is underway and here are seven Indian youngster to watch out for in the ongoing edition.

Ishan Pandita has spent the last four years playing in the lower divisions of Spanish football.

From the evolution of Anirudh Thapa into one of the best midfielders in the country to the emergence of teenaged defender Sumit Rathi, the Indian Super League (ISL) has featured some of the most talented youngsters in Indian football. We take a look at seven young stars who could make an impact in the seventh edition of the country’s top division.

Sumit Rathi

 

Age: 19

Club: ATK Mohun Bagan

Rathi enjoyed a phenomenal debut last season, where he won the ISL title with ATK and the Emerging Player of the Year award. Rathi made it to the starting lineup following an injury to Anas Edathodika, and the youngster seized the opportunity with both hands (or should we say with both feet). He put on a strong show in the three-man defence alongside Agustin Iniguez and John Johnson, and soon cemented his spot in the starting XI. The teenager will need to prove his mettle once again this season as he faces stiff competition within his club, which has roped in the likes of Sandesh Jhingan, Tiri and Subhasish Bose.

Narender Gahlot

 

Age: 19

Club: Jamshedpur FC

A product of the Chandigarh Football Academy, Gahlot rose through the ranks after making his debut for the Indian senior team last year and earned massive praise from national coach Igor Stimac. “His endurance level is phenomenal like the top European players. He has good speed and his resistance is fantastic. If we teach him how to compete and how to concentrate for 95 minutes, we will have a great defender,” Stimac had said. Having joined Jamshedpur last season, the fullback was a solid presence in defence and featured in 11 games. A quick reader of the game with a strong aerial presence, he is likely to be a preferred option in the starting XI this season.

Phrangki Buam

 

Age: 19

Club: FC Goa

One of the most promising players to join the ISL this season, the midfielder made his senior debut in the 2018-19 I-League season with Shillong Lajong and had an instant impact. He announced his arrival by scoring six goals to become the club’s top-scorer and the third-highest Indian goalscorer in the league that season. While Shillong was relegated that year, Phrangki continued to shine as he led the club to two titles last season – the Shillong Premier League and the Meghalaya State League. He then moved to Bengaluru United on loan to play in the I-League 2nd Division.

Mohammad Nawaz

 

Age: 20

Club: FC Goa

Mohammad Nawaz has made his mark in the ISL by the age of 20. The goalkeeper played in each minute of FC Goa’s campaign last season and kept five clean sheets – third-best to Bengaluru FC’s Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and ATK’s Arindam Bhattacharja. FC Goa will bank on Nawaz’s cat-like reflexes and ability to play out from the back as it tries to defend its League Winners Shield this season.

Shubham Sarangi

 

Age: 20

Club: Odisha FC

Shubham Sarangi made a lukewarm ISL debut with Delhi Dynamos in the 2018-19 season – rebranded as Odisha FC last season, with the home base shifted from the national capital to Bhubaneswar – but enjoyed a breakthrough campaign last term. The 20-year-old played 17 matches and made 81 successful tackles while averaging 36 passes per game. The young defender’s fine show earned him a callup to the Indian national team’s preparatory camp that was eventually called off due to the pandemic. With Odisha FC roping in Newcastle legend Steven Taylor and Australia’s Jacob Tratt in defence, Sarangi stands to learn the tricks of the trade from the very best.

Anirudh Thapa

 

Age: 22

Club: Chennaiyin FC

Thapa is the most experienced player on this list. All of 22, he has already established himself as one of India’s best midfielders and a mainstay with Chennaiyin FC and the national team. His fantastic work rate and adept reading of the game make him an asset, topped by his ability to thread key passes with ease. One of Chennaiyin’s MVPs, Thapa crafted six assists (joint-most for the club) and made 991 passes (second-most) in Chennaiyin’s runner-up finish last season. A terrific midfielder and a useful defender, Thapa is definitely among the youngsters to watch out for this season.

Ishan Pandita

Age: 22

Club: FC Goa

Ishan Pandita is a name that has been doing the rounds for a long time. He made headlines aplenty by joining the youth setup at CD Leganes in 2016, becoming the first Indian player to sign a professional contract with a La Liga club. However, a spate of injuries and a lack of game time saw him slip off the radar. He last played for Lorca FC in Spain’s fourth division and has now arrived at FC Goa on a one-year deal. The promising youngster will be a fine attacking option for the coach in a challenging season for FC Goa, where it will play in the ISL as well as the AFC Champions League.