As the premier division of football in India completes twelve rounds, pundits and fans would second the fact that it has certainly popped up a lot surprises along the way. With a number of big names in Indian football failing to impress, teams with better planning and strategy have come up with the winning cards. As the roller-coaster ride continues in further rounds, lets have a look at something relevant. Something which ends up being unnoticed among the fans as the foreign players hog all the glory and limelight. The five most influential U-23 players which can end up donning the senior national jersey very soon.

Nikhil Kadam ( Pune FC )

His journey from being a ball boy to a full contract at the club.

The twenty year old midfilder has impressed a lot of Red Lizards faithful with his stint in the I-league so far.  He is the first player who has managed to progress through ranks from being a ball boy during the debut season of the club to the Pune FC academy and eventually getting a contract with the senior team for the 12/13 I-league season. Kadam started his playing career with state junior teams and was soon inducted into the Krdia Prabhodhini Academy in Pune, from where he went on to give trials at the Pune FC U-19 academy.

Nikhil, who has been awarded with  ‘Pune FC Best Disciplined Under-19 Player’ and ‘PDFA Best Player – Super Division Award’ in the 2011-12 season. Later he got his first caps in Durand and Federation Cup. After some eye catching performances in the U-20 I-League, the much awaited debut in the I-League came last year when he came on in the second half against United Sikkim SC.

Kadam has featured in Mike Snoie’s plans this season, but unfortunately an injury will keep the Kohlapuri lad out for some weeks, atleast. Nikhil has been sensational so far in the league from the middle of the park and has definitely added to the value on display at the Balewadi Sports Complex by the boys in red.

Season So far

Number of Games Played: 10 , Goals– 1

 Ram Malick ( Mohun Bagan )

The young Bengali lad started early with his passion for the game when he got enrolled into the Mohun Bagan SAIL academy in 2006. The mid field player trained at the academy for three years before joining United Sports club to ply his trade there. After a short stint at Kalighat MS,  He soon donned the colors of the Famous Aryan club where he showcased his prowess on the left flank.

Recognizing  his talent, the 21 yr old was offered a contract by Mohun Bagan this season and coach Bencharifa has shown trust in the young prodigy. Ram Malik was thrown into the mix in the league match against the defending champions Churchill Brothers to give him his maiden cap for the Mariners. The young midfielder hasn’t looked back since and has given cent percent whenever called upon. He will certainly be one to keep an eye on during the course of the season. One of his weaknesses is that he is rather light-weight and can be outmuscled fairly easily, though he makes a fair use of his speed to get away from his markers.

Season So far

Number of Games Played: 10 , Goals– 1

Narayan Das ( Dempo SC )

NARAYAN-DAS-240x240(c)AIFFAfter making his debut with the national team recently, this young lad from Jharkand hogged a lot of attention. Currently plying his trade for Goan giants Dempo, Narayan Das was one of the former Palian Arrows players who were left without a team when the federation decided to disband the side due to lack of sponsorship. He was signed by the IMG-R league, but then was roped in by Dempo as the league postponed, very shrewdly.

The flexible player can slot in both the roles of midfielder/defender on the left flank. The young lad has progressed through the ranks in the national team, duly getting noticed for his gritty performances in the U-19 and U-23 team. Das joined the Goan outfit and made his debut for The Eagles against Mohun Bagan. With his recent performances in the league, he would be one to watch out for.

Season So far

Number of Games Played: 7, Yellow Cards– 1

Rowlin Borges ( Sporting Club de Goa )

The Flaming Oranje has surprised everyone this season with their resilient performance in the league . As Oscar Bruzon’s side sit three points off the summit of the table, the fact that their forte is teamwork is a well known fact among the fans. Sporting Club has relied upon their youth and academy players to run the show and that is what exactly Rowlin Borges is up to in this year’s squad.

Rowlin, a young central attacking midfielder has come up the tree in a very short span of time, straight into the senior side with experienced players around him. Initially, he was chosen to play in the Lusofonia games U-21 games. The youngster has been getting his due preference by Oscar over Dwason and Victorino in some games and Rowlin has stepped up in crucial games to play vital role. One recent example was Sporting’s crucial win over Pune FC where Rowlin was pivotal in the build up of the opening goal.

Season So far

Number of Games Played: 11 , Goals– 0

Milan Singh ( Shillong Lajong FC )

The former captain of the AIFF developmental side Pailan Arrows,  Milan Singh has also starred in this year’s edition of the I-League. The Manipuri lad has all the ingredients to lead a team from the middle of the park, which became evident when Pailan Arrows finished above the relegation zone last season. His six goals for the club during a three year spell attested the hard work of the sturdy midfielder.

Shillong Lajong did well to get the signature of Milan Singh before this season kicked off and Milan started from where he left last season. He has already pumped in some worthy and notable  performances and has played a regular role in the starting line up. Shillong now sit on the fourth position and have shown signs of massive improvement as this Manipuri boy climbs up the charts to an eventaul call up from the national team.

Season So far

Number of Games Played: 13 , Goals– 1

The aforementioned players have lived up to the expectations which were heaped on them by their respective coachas and mentors. They have shone on the highest stage of football this country can provide, but many have embraced this stage and then got lost into obscurity before. It will be very interesting to keep an eye on these young players coming up the ranks and how they manage the fame, and an eventual call up, if feasible.