With World Cup over, the focus has shifted back to Indian Football and 2014/15 looks to be a watershed year for the beautiful game in the country with the ISL set to start in September. The start of the Indian Super League has however not deterred the clubs from making signings of Indian players and the marquee foreign players. There have been the usual high profile transfers with the likes of Ranti Martins, Lal Kamal Bhowmick, Deepak Mondal and Jeje among other being involved but it has been the emphasis on signing the U-19 and the U-23 players that has set this transfer apart from the previous seasons.
Shillong Lajong have promoted several of their academy players to the senior team. The U-19 Shillong Lajong team gave a good account of themselves in the U-19 I-League earlier in the season. A majority of India U-19 players based out of the elite academy in Goa earned contracts with the I-League team but it was the graduating Tata Football Academy batch which had the clubs fighting for. The TFA team gave a glimpse of their talent when they easily brushed most of their opponents to lift the U-19 I-League trophy. The TFA cadets earned good contracts with several I-League clubs and will be keenly watched next season.
Leading the list of cadets is Kumam Udanta Singh who has been handpicked by the I-League champions Bengaluru FC on a one year deal. The 19 year old Manipuri was the face of the India U-19 team in the AFC U-19 Championship qualifiers held last year where he troubled the opposition defenders with his pace and trickery. The highly rated striker impressed with his pace and tireless running in all the four matches even scoring a goal against Turkmenistan. The striker finished as the top scorer in the U-19 I-League scoring nine goals in the competition and was on the radar of several top clubs. With the ability to play anywhere in the final third, Udanta will definitely learn a lot playing alongside Sunil Chhetri and this opportunity of playing under Ashley Westwood would help him mature as a player. Udanta was also called up for the India U-22 camp and will no doubt be closely watched by the fans across the nation in the coming season
Midfielder Vinit Rai from Sikkim has signed a two year contract with Dempo Sports Club and the technically gifted midfielder is known for his passing range and creativity in the middle of the park. The midfielder from Sikkim can tackle well and has a good first touch. Vinit scored two goals in the U-19 I-League and will surely be an asset to the Goan giants as they look to reclaim the I-League crown. Dempo have also signed goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Chabal from TFA after releasing Subhasish Roy Chowdhury at the end of the last season. Gurpreet is good in the air and is known to have good reflexes. The opposition strikers in the U-19 I-League and other age group tournaments have found it tough to go past him. At Dempo, both the players will have the opportunity to train under Arthur Papas, who has worked with the India U-22 and the Arriows in the past and is well versed in working with the young players.
Out of the 18 graduating cadets from the Tata Football Academy, Jarmanjit Singh earned the best contract after he has picked up by Sporting club de Goa for a three year contract worth Rs 38 Lakhs. The 19 year old from Amritsar was a rock at the back for the TFA for close to four years and had offers from Dempo and East Bengal as well but choose to sign for the Oscar Bruzon mentored side. The lanky defender is a natural leader and has captained Jharkhand in the Santosh Trophy besides captaining his academy. Jarmanjit came into prominence following his gutsy display in an exhibition match against East Bengal where he caught the eye of the East Bengal management. Good in the air, Jarmanjit is a tough nut to crack and will no doubt prove to be a asset for the Flaming Oranje in the upcoming seasons. In addition the club has also signed defender Harpreet Singh Sahota.
Kolkata giants East Bengal have also roped in three TFA cadets in addition to promoting several players from their U-19 squad to the senior team. Measuring at 6 feet 4 inches, Manash Sarkar is one of the tallest strikers in the country at the moment and no doubts add a different dimension to the East Bengal attack. Manash scored twice in TFA’s 4-0 win over Bengaluru FC U-19 last season and will be looking to make a mark in Kolkata this season. A skillful player, Sarkar has a good positioning sense and can beat the defenders with his speed and finishing abilities. 20 year old defender Baidyanath Das is the second cadet signed by the Lal-Hould brigade. Born to rickshaw puller in a poor family, the story of the hardworking defender is truly a inspirational one. Deepak Tirkey , the 20 year old midfielder is the third player signed by the club.
Under their new coach Karim Bencherifa, Pune FC managed to sign highly rated goalkeeper Md. Moniruzzaman Ansari who was on the radar of the top I-League clubs. The 19 year old highly revered for his shot stopping skills is a good reader of the game and organizes the defense very well from the back. Ansari, who used to practice at Mohammedan Sporting under Shabbir Ali, has been rated very highly by former Shillong Lajong and current TFA assistant coach Gumpe Rime. Other than the above mentioned players, the midfield duo of Kamal Deep Singh and Suraj Singh have joined Churchill Brothers while defender Sanjiv Kumar has joined newly promoted Royal Wahingdoh on trial. The duo of Suraj and Kamaldeep have represented Jharkhand in the Santosh Trophy and bring with them vital experience.
The TFA cadets over the years have done well in the I-League with Dempo duo Narayan Das and Proany Halder and Bengaluru midfielder Siam Hangal being the latest to make a name for themselves in the I-League. As the new season kicks off, all eyes will be on the these young TFA cadets as to how they perform.