A rule change for the fourth season of the Indian Super League ensured that are six Indians in the starting XI, but the local players are doing a lot more than just making up the numbers on the pitch in the current edition of the Indian Super League.
Now, coaches opt for a local player as goalkeeper (except for Kerala Blasters) and use five foreigners in the front, especially in the forwardline. Alexandre Guimaraes, Mumbai City FC head coach, observed: “It is early to analyze how the presence of more Indian players is influencing a coach’s decision.”
But goals from attacking Indian midfielders and specialist strikers, from set-piece situations like free-kicks or normal play, has given a boost for team morale.
India’s leading footballers Mohammed Rafi, Lenny Rodrigues, Mandar Dessai, Balwant Singh and Sunil Chhetri have scored. But Lallianzuala, a 20-year-old from Mizoram, and Bipin, a 22-year-old from Manipur, have stood out from the pack for the poise and perfection in finishing when presented with an opportunity.
Both scored against FC Pune City and custodian Kamaljit Singh was at the receiving end and those two breathtaking goals from Indians were the high points in the 12 matches played in November 2017.
Lallianzuala Chhangte, Delhi Dynamos
Delhi Dynamos FC’s Spanish coach Miguel Portugal allowed Lallianzuala Chhangte the freedom to attack at first opportunity. He ended up being named the ‘Best Player’ in a 3-2 thriller against FC Pune City, setting up one goal and netting the second like any specialist striker would.
Pune City goalkeeper Kamaljit rushed off the goalline after spotting the nimble-footed Lallianzuala advancing alone but was beaten by a cheeky left-footed tap on the run into the net, sealing a 3-2 win for Delhi Dynamos at the Balewadi stadium.
DDFC coach Miguel Angel Portugal appreciated the energetic youngster’s work. “I like the football Chhangte plays. He not only plays for enjoyment, he plays for rotation of the ball, passes to the wing and crosses well towards goal. The young players are fresh in my team.”
Lallianzuala, who belongs to DSK Shvajians-Liverpool International Football Academy in Loni (Pune), joined ISL in 2016 for North East United FC. He attended Liverpool FC’s youth academy in Kirkby (England) following goal-scoring feats in I-League U-19 tournament in 2014. Indian coach Stephen Constantine handed the Manipuri an international appearance during the SAFF Cup 2015.
Lallianzuala rode on a teammate’s shoulder after an astonishing burst through the middle and a crisp finish at Balewadi stadium.
Bipin Singh, ATK
ATK’s coach from England, Teddy Sheringham, chose Bipin Singh as a surprise choice to hit a direct free-kick in a home game against Pune. It was probably this season’s best goal by an Indian. Jamshedpur FC’s Mehtab Hossain was chosen as the ‘Best Player’ in a goalless draw with Chennaiyin FC and ranks third among tackles by defenders this season.
Bipin’s direct free-kick floated in beyond Kamaljit’s reach: A curling left-footer, it spun over a wall of defenders and dipped into the net at the right post; it was among the best goals of the season. His other ATK teammates were near the ball at the free-kick spot at Yuba Bharati Krirangan; no one in Pune City would have expected the Indian to be given the opportunity to pull the trigger by Sheringham. The coach and his midfielder embraced on the sideline after Bipin ran towards the dugout.
ATK coach Sheringham described Bipin’s free-kick goal as “fantastic” in the post-match briefing. Bipin Singh represented Shillong Lajong in the I-League from 2012-2016 and made his ISL debut against Kerala Blasters this season.
Rohit Kumar, Pune City FC
Pune’s Serbian coach Ranko Popovic singled out midfielder Rohit Kumar for special mention after he scored off a power-packed header in a 4-1 rout of defending champion ATK. Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory praised midfielders Dhanpal Ganesh, Bikramjit Singh for endurance and efficiency following a win over North-East United FC.
Pune City won 4-1 in an away game, playing in front a packed stadium, resulting in coach Popovic praising the team effort, mentioning Rohit Kumar’s ferocious header into the net off a flag-kick as the game changer. “The key moment was Rohit's goal, which changed the game. They (ATK) had scored two minutes before that.”
The 20-year-old Delhi midfielder started in three matches under the Serbian, hit big-time in Indian football with DSK Shivajians club in I-League 2016, graduating from DSK Shivajians-Liverpool IFA to the senior squad, He and academy player Lallianzuala were selected for India U-19 team.
Mehtab Hossain, Jamshedpur FC
Jamshedpur FC’s Mehtab, a senior India international, is a seasoned hand (Tollygunge Agragami, Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and three ISL seasons with Kerala Blasters), and is known for his tackling and defensive qualities, witnessed in JFC’s goalless draw with NEUFC at Guwahati.
Indian footballers appear ready to shoulder responsibility. More the merrier.