The Indian Super League (ISL) has been the perfect breeding ground for young players since its inception. There have been many stars like Sandesh Jhingan, Romeo Fernandes, Jeje Lalpekhlua and even youngsters like Jerry Lalrinzuala who have arisen from the ISL teams over the past four seasons.
The last season saw young players like Sarthak Golui, Sahil Panwar, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Lalruathhara and Anirudh Thapa make their mark on the pitch and even earn call-ups to the national team.
While most ISL teams have been reluctant to spend big on marquee players they have not shied away from splurging the cash on future stars. While 17-year old defender Anwar Ali was snapped up by Mumbai City FC for Rs 30 lakhs, a record-breaking amount for an U-18 player, Chennaiyin FC were prudent enough to sign Abhijit Sarkar, Deepak Tangri and Rahim Ali. ATK have signed up Boris Singh.
There are several players who will be plying their trade in ISL 5 who have shown promise at various other domestic tournaments and are now ready to take that leap to establish themselves in the ISL.
We take a look at 10 youngsters who will be making their debut this season and can be expected to shine this season for their franchises:
1. Michael Soosairaj – Jamshedpur FC
The former Chennai City FC attacking midfielder was one of the best players in I-League 2017-18 and has been signed by Jamshedpur FC. The Tamil Nadu born player was the midfield dynamo for the men in green and his creativity proved to be decisive in unlocking gritty opposition defences. Soosairaj should be the perfect fit for head coach Cesar Ferrando who has taken over the reigns in the coming season after Steve Coppell moved on to ATK.
2. SK Faiaz – ATK
The 23-year-old winger had put in stellar performances for Mohun Bagan in the previous edition of I-League. Although he was predominantly used on the right wing, the Howrah-born winger was comfortable plying his trade on both flanks. He has pace to burn and the tricks up his sleeves often give the full backs a run for their money. He notched up four assists and two goals for the Maroon and Greens during the 1197 minutes he spent on the pitch.
3. Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem – Kerala Blasters FC
This 18-year-old needs no introduction. India’s premier gloveman in the FIFA U17 World Cup has also had a training stint at Scottish side Motherwell FC but ended up returning back to sign for the Blasters. With David James taking Dheeraj under his wing in Kerala, the Manipur-born goalie is set to be the youngest number one choice goalkeeper in the history of the Indian Super League.
4. Jithin MS – Kerala Blasters FC
Jithin MS scripted history Kerala Blasters paid Rs. 5 lakh as a transfer fee to Kerala FC to sign him on a three-year deal. The Thrissur-born player was lethal in the attacking third for Kerala state team in the Santosh Trophy and was the joint top scorer in the tournament. His goalmouth exploits helped Kerala lift the trophy after 14 years as they beat West Bengal in Kolkata. Although it will not be easy for Jithin to break into the starting XI from the onset, but he has the firepower to make an impact in the ISL.
5. Redeem Tlang – Northeast United FC
The 23-year-old winger has become a household name in the domestic circuit for his exploits with Shillong Lajong for the last couple of seasons. He is known for his inch-perfect crosses from the flanks and also has a knack to score important goals. He has the experience to succeed at the highest level and under the guidance of master tacticians like Avram Grant and Schattorie, the youngster is set to be an important weapon in NEUFC’s armoury.
6. Laldinliana Renthlei – Chennaiyin FC
The young right-back from Aizawl FC was snapped up by Chennaiyin FC after his impressive performances last season in the I-League and the AFC Cup. He can be used as a handy backup to the experienced Inigo Calderon and a long-time replacement for the Spaniard.
7. Raynier Fernandes – Mumbai City FC
Mumbai City have signed a promising midfielder in Raynier Fernandes who was an important cog at the centre of the park for Mohun Bagan. Fernandes, along with Yuta Kinowaki and Cameron Watson, provided stability to Bagan’s midfield and was equally confident in moving forward with the ball. He also oozes confidence as a defensive screen which allows greater freedom to his more attack-minded team-mates.
8. Nikhil Poojary – FC Pune City
Former Mumbai FC man Nikhil Poojary recently broke into the national side but an ACL injury forced him to sit out the entire I-League season. He was impressive on the pitch for East Bengal two seasons ago and is a mainstay in the India U-23 squad. He will find it tough to get playing time in the famed Pune attacking line but will be looking to impress whenever a chance arrives.
9. Shubham Sarangi – Delhi Dynamos FC
The 18-year-old forward was signed by Delhi Dynamos in the January transfer window of 2017 and was immediately sent out on a training stint with the Aspire Academy to further his football development. Josep Gombau’s possession-based brand of football is tailor-made for the young forward and he hopes to establish himself firmly in Delhi’s squad this season.
10. Nikhil Kadam – NorthEast United FC
The former Mumbai FC and Mohun Bagan man was picked up by the NorthEast United franchise after his impressive performances for the past two seasons in the Hero I-League. A move to Mohun Bagan last season proved fruitful for the Maharashtra-born winger. In Sony Norde’s absence, Kadam filled in well in the role, including a blockbuster derby performance against East Bengal. The 24-year-old could prove to be a pivotal player for the low-spenders from Guwahati.