It’s not just the Indian Arrows’ young guns who are creating a niche for themselves in this year’s I-League, but there are a few more gems in the making who are contributing significantly to their team’s cause. Let’s have a look at few promising young performers who have it in them to light-up the biggest stage of Indian football in coming years:

1. Ajay Singh

One look at Ajay Singh and you may be forgiven for dismissing him as just another newcomer in the I-League. However this lanky striker packs quite a punch and has already been creating waves by scoring crucial goals which is helping his team to remain afloat above the relegation scare. The 22 year protégée  is a product of JCT Youth Academy and in the absence of proven goal-scorers like Baljeet Sahni, who moved to East Bengal and poor run of form of Balwant Singh, Ajay has been a revelation this season. Carrying on with the good work he started in the Santosh trophy, he has found the back of the net six times for the Millmen this season. Five of those goals have come in at crucial junctures late in the second half when JCT were trying to play the catch-up game. Ajay’s poaching instinct have already earned him quite a reputation and he would be looking forward to carry on with the good work which can eventually earn him the elusive national call-up.

2. Robin Singh (East Bengal):

Robin – a bright prospect

Young Robin Singh had already caught the imagination of football fans across India even before he was roped in by the Kolkata Giants East Bengal. He then had a dream start in his professional career by scoring a few quality goals in the Kolkata league wearing the famous Red-&-Gold jersey and continued in the same fashion in his debut I-League season. However a recent slump of form, competition for places in the side and niggling injuries have caused a momentary halt in his development which witnessed him going through a lean spell of goal drought.

Despite this impede Robin has continued to work hard and has provided plenty of goal scoring assists for his team members. He came tantalizingly close to scoring in the AFC Cup match away at Persipura Jayapura of Indonesia only to be denied by the wood-work and then came up with a couple of crucial assists in the home leg tie against Chonburi FC in the same prestigious competition. Already a member of the Indian Olympic team, this stint of exposure in the AFC Cup would do a world of good to his development and fans would be expecting a good show from Robin in the crucial phase of I-League title chase.

3. Bineesh Balan (Churchill Brothers):

The 20 year old heart-throb of Viva Kerala team last season, Bineesh Balan decided to switch allegiance to Churchill Brothers this year. Considering the quality of strike force Churchill possesses in its armor; it was a wishful thinking by the youngster to expect a substantial amount of play-time under his belt in his very first season with the Goan giants. However despite joining a star-studded line up, Bineesh has been able to regularly find a place in the starting eleven and has proved his versatility by filling in the roles of a striker and a midfielder with equal aplomb.

He has already notched up six goals this season and looks good enough to grab a few more. A product of the famous Tata Football Academy, Bineesh has already represented India in the U-14 & U-19 level and proved his mettle in the Wales International tournament with the U-19 Indian team. A goal each against English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspurs’ youth team and Airhot United in the aforementioned tournament fetched him a great deal of accolades . This diminutive player is proving that young Indian strikers can equally match their foreign counterparts if provided with adequate first team action.

4. Gilbert Oliveira (Salgaocar SC):

At the tender age of 20 years Gilbert Oliveira has already become a household name in Goan football circles with his sterling performances for the Goan Greens in this I-League campaign and his exclusion from the Indian Olympic team has perplexed many. The young winger who is a product of the Salgaocar Youth Academy has really flourished under Karim Bencherifa in his very first crusade with the senior team. Capable of playing on either of the wings as well as a target man upfront, he has been the architect behind several attacking moves for Salgaocar and these qualities have already made him a prime transfer target for all the top club recruiters next season. It’s his lethal crosses and defence splitting passes that have helped Yousuf Yakubu and Ryuji Sueoka to score goals in plenty and have given Salgaocar a realistic hope of winning the I-League crown this year. At a time when young Indian players were finding it difficult to get on the scoring chart, Gilbert comes as a breathe of fresh air and is definitely the one with a bright future ahead.

5.  Karma Tsewang
(Viva Kerala):

Karma Tsewang is yet another young gun who has caught the eye with his impressive performances. Hailing from Itanagar in Arunachal Pradesh, this winger has had a terrific second season with Viva Kerala after impressing last year  in his debut season as well. It is his consistency to deliver quality performances that have made him an automatic first team choice for Viva Kerala. The soft spoken lad from the North-East is a tireless worker and his accurate crosses, fine dribbling, tackling and positioning have caused big headaches to rival teams. This season he has already scored 2 goals in the Federation cup and twice  in the I league besides providing a number of assists.

6. Ravinder singh (East Bengal):

Young Ravinder, hailing from Ludhiana in Punjab is also known as the “Indian Ashley Cole” due to the resemblance in their playing styles. Ravinder is a left back who is plying his trade with East Bengal this season after being roped in by the Kolkata giants from Air India. This attacking left back is equally comfortable to step in the left winger’s role and a dead ball specialist as well. He adds tremendous depth to the East Bengal squad with his versatility. He scored from the spot in this year’s AFC Cup opener for East Bengal against Chonburi FC – a goal which restored parity in that 4-4 stalemate. His sizzling long ranger in the 2011 IFA Shield opening match against Southern Samity will be fresh in the minds of Red-&-Gold faithful for years to come. Having played in the SAFF cup wining Indian U-23 team at Bangladesh, he would now be hoping to get the elusive called up for the senior team and could possibly be a solution to the Indian national team’s left back worries.

7. Lester Fernandes
(Pune FC):

Next Alvito D’Cunha?
[Photo Credit: Rudra Nayan Das]

24 years old Lester Fernandes  graduated from the TFA in 2007 under the guidance of legendary Carlton Chapman. Having represented the U-19 Indian team at the JRD Tata Cup, he has represented Dempo,Vasco SC, Salgaocar as a professional player and presently plys his trade for Pune FC. This central midfielder is an attacking ball player and has caught many a teams off guard with  his sudden burst of pace down the middle and excellent dribbling abilities.

A player with an exquisite first touch and excellent ball control Lester has established himself as a vital part of the Pune FC midfield and provides the much needed thrust to their attacking intentions. Such speedy players are the need of the hour in Indian football as not only does it add variety to the game but also draws spectators to the stands.

8. Lal Kamal Bhowmick (Chirag United):

Lal Kamal has been a regular in the Indian domestic circuit but has really raised his performance in this year’s I-League. It can be safely said that Lal Kamal has literally emerged from the ashes as he has finally done some justice to his abundant talent. The young midfielder has been the creative force behind Chirag United’s attacking department, pulling the strings of the midfield with his excellent vision. Lal Kamal, who has been an integral part of the junior Indian teams would now be hoping to impress the national coach with his performance and stake his claim for a place in the senior Indian team.

~ Nishant Ramela