One has to go long time back in history to remember when India last won a match outside the sub-continent and the bulk of the reason for this failure has been attributed to the lack of quality strikers in India. First, Baichung and now Chettri have struggled to find support from their fellow strikers. The problem came to forefront in the AFC Challenge when India failed to score a single goal in the absence of Jeje, who was injured.
The just concluded I-League was as usual dominated by foreign strikers with Ranty Martins scoring 32 goals and Odafa racking up 26. Unlike Jeje in last season or Rafi in 2009-2010′ season , no Indian striker managed to score double digit goals though there were a host of Indian strikers who did impress the football pundits across the nation. In this edition of High Five, TheHardTackle profiles the top five Indian Goal-scorers of the I-League
Leading the way with 9 goals is the U-23 Indian striker C.S. Sabeeth who has been warming the benches for the senior national team for some time now. A lot of people have doubted his credentials as a national team player and when Arrows failed to score for majority of the season, question marks emerged over his abilities. Sabeeth however responded in style and scored a hat-trick in Arrows’ first win of the season, a 3-0 demolition of Chirag United. Sabeeth formed a deadly combination with Alywn George in the last few rounds and the duo was instrumental in the turnaround of Arrow’s fortunes
The Kerala born striker idolizes Baichung Bhutia and IM Vijayan and wants to play in England one day. With Sushil Kumar falling out of favour and Jeje still not fully fit, Sabeeth has a great opportunity to establish himself as a first team regular. It is believed that Sabeeth has signed for Bagan in the next season where he will have to be content with limited playing time and fight for first team place but given his abilities one hopes that Sabeeth will continue to give impressive performances next season as well
Chirag United may have been relegated this season but CK Vineeth is definitely one of the finds of this season’s I-League. As things went from bad to worse for Chirag, Vineeth went from good to better. Vineeth scored a bicycle kick goal against Dempo at Fartorda which brought him into the limelight. His brace against Shillong helped Chirag edge Shillong 3-2 and he signed off in style scoring a brace against Mumbai FC in the last round of I-League. Vineeth finished as the joint top-scorer with 9 goals.
Vineeth’s biggest strength is his ability to link up with the midfielders and build up play from the center of the field. He formed a great combination with David Sunday and often provided assists to Sunday’s goals. Equally good in the air as well, Vineeth has a great future ahead of him and the fans would definitely like to see him play for a bigger club though it is sadly being reported that he may have to stay in Kerala because of his government service
Recently crowned Young Player of the year, Manandeep Singh has been tipped as the next big thing in Indian Football. A largely successful season for Air India by their standards can be attributed to Manandeep’s crucial goals. The former India U-23 striker scored 7 goals this season and his exclusion from the AFC Challenge cup squad raised a lot of doubts back home. Manandeep responded in style and scored a brace against Bagan after the league resumed which included a spectacular bicycle goal which is easily one of the goals of the season.
Manandeep’s hustle bustle style of play is a contrast to the nature of Jeje or Chettri’s game and his inclusion does bring a new dimension to the Indian attack. Hailing from Haryana, Manandeep was the youngest player in the Subroto Cup 2001 and made his debut for the U-23 team against Qatar in 2011. In Addition to being physically strong, Manandeep is good in air and can use both his feet with ease. His dribbling skills make him an excellent player to watch. Manandeep is most likely to get a run in the national team and the fans hope that the lad from Haryana will make it count
If Manandeep was one pillar of strength for Air-India , Sandesh Gadkari with an identical 7 goals was the other. Air-India was probably the only I-League club except Arrows to start with both Indian strikers and both Manandeep and Gadkari responded to the challenge admirably. Gadkari scored a brace as Air-India defeated Sporting 3-1 at their home and then scored a crucial goal in the Mumbai derby as Air India got the better of Mumbai FC 1-0.
Lack of first team opportunities forced Gadkari to move from Pune FC to Air-India this season where he played for 4 seasons. Standing at 6 feet 2 in, Gadkari is one of the tallest strikers in India and his height along with his superb ability to finish even from the narrowest of angles makes him a player to watch out for. Having signed for Salgaocar for the coming season as per the reports, TheHardTackle hopes that Gadkari would soon be given a chance in the national team.
Subhash Singh of Pune FC made most of the opportunities that came up to him after Jeje got injured and he forged a lethal combination with Keita upfront and ended up scoring 7 goal for the Red-Lizards. His performances earned him the ‘Best Young Player’ at the Pune FC award night. Subhash Singh burst into the limelight scoring a brace against rivals Mumbai FC. The first one was a classy finish from a narrow angle while second was a crisp shot from outside the box. Subhash-Keita combo turned provider-scorer for each other against Chirag when Subhash scored the first and provided the assist for second scored by Keita.
Subhash joined Air-India and was the second highest Indian goal-scorer in his second year with the club itself. He then moved to East Bengal before joining Pune FC. The 22 year old speedy Manipuri has represented India at the U-19 level and also at the AFC Challenge Cup in 2010 as a part of the India U-23 team. Subhash has also been part of the national team camp when he was called up to replace the injured Sunil Chettri. The diminutive striker has one of the best dribbling skills in the country and the fans would definitely get to see more of him in years to come
Clifford Miranda, Lalrindika Ralte and Victorino Fernandes with 6 goals are other notable mentions. These players will definitely be given chances in the national team and the fans hope that they make use of whatever little opportunities that fall to them. With sky-rising demands of foreign strikers, the Indian strikers will be given more opportunities in the coming season as well and TheHardTackle hopes that India’s goal drought on foreign soil will end soon.