The Hero Indian Super League (ISL) has provided an expansive stage for young Indian footballers since its inception in 2014. Over the years, the spectators have witnessed incredible progress of players like Sandesh Jhingan, Sahal Abdul Samad and Brandon Fernandes amongst others.
The sixth edition offers a similar platform and the young guns, apart from making a telling impact, will have another target in sight; impressing the national team coach, Igor Stimac. The intuitive business done by the franchises over the break is sure to catch the glamour, but the other spotlight will be shed on the budding talents of the league.
That said, here are five names you need to keep a keen eye on this season.
Amarjit Singh (Jamshedpur FC)
Having made his senior team debut at the tender age of 18, Amarjit, who captained the Indian team at the FIFA U-17 World Cup, is already in the good books of Stimac. Cool and composed on the ball, Amarjit is applauded for showing immense maturity and is expected to have a greater impact in Jamshedpur’s title bid this season.
For that to happen though, his club is forced to wait for as many as four to five weeks as he is still recovering from his arm injury he sustained while training with the national team in September. Once fit, Amarjit will be hoping to make a roaring comeback and make sure all the hype is worth waiting.
Narender Gahlot (Jamshedpur FC)
Gahlot has been making quite a wave in Indian footballing arena, having scored an international goal in only his second appearance for the senior Indian team. Just like Amarjit, Gahlot previously represented India at the U-17 World Cup and has played for Indian Arrows in the last Hero I-League.
The 18-year-old centre-half, who is out injured right now, sure has a lot to learn, but his ball-playing ability will come handy for manager Antonio Iriondo. Once fit, Gahlot will be expected to partner Tiri at the back straight in.
Jeakson Singh (Kerala Blasters)
The scorer of India’s first-ever goal in a FIFA tournament, Jeakson too partnered Amarjit and Gahlot at the U-17 World Cup. Having spent the 2018-19 season on loan to Indian Arrows, the 6ft 1in midfielder started Kerala Blasters’ league opener against ATK in place of Sahal Abdul Samad, partnering Mouhamadou Moustapha Gning of Senegal in a two-man midfield.
The 18-year-old didn’t disappoint, as his performance earned him the Emerging Player of the Match award.
Rahul KP (Kerala Blasters)
Another one from the U-17 battalion, winger Rahul KP – just liked the aforementioned names – was groomed by Indian Arrows. Now under the watchful eyes of Eelco Schattorie at Kerala, Rahul will hope to use his pace to exploit the opposition defence to unlock that cutting-edge Kerala have been looking to find.
Usually deployed as a winger, the 19-year-old’s versatility allows him to operate on multiple attacking positions; something which Schattorie would love to explore as the season progresses.
Mohammad Nawaz (FC Goa)
Having already impressed his club’s hierarchy (FC Goa) during the 2018-19 season, the 19-year-old goalkeeper Mohammad Nawaz lived up to the billing by securing a clean sheet in their 2019-20 season opener against Chennaiyin FC.
At 5ft 9in, the Manipuri stopper may not fulfil the goalkeepers’ stereotype – of having a towering frame – but his decision making and ability of building the team right from the back is applauded by his manager, Schattorie. Now in his second season with the club, the 19-year-old keeper will be hoping to make the similar impact that he had in his debut season (2018) with the club.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Sajjad Hussain