There is an imminent air of excitement with a dash of anxiety surrounding the Indian Super League among the football faithful in the country, as the new born league started to flutter its wings with the draft selection process. With 64 domestic players drafted ( 30 loaned from I-League clubs + centrally contracted players ) and nearly 24 Cr. INR spent over two days in Mumbai, eventually we have eight teams to fight out for the maiden ISL crown in September. While the football pundits in the country might be sitting on different boats with respect to the impact of this ‘New Era’ in Indian football, this is definitely a fantastic opportunity for the domestic players to ply their trade amongst some renowned names and grab some eyeballs before the real season kicks off in December. Most of the players selected for the draft had been a part of the national team in the last three years, and the rest being young budding footballers.
Among these players, we handpick five young talents who have the capability to single handedly impact the game.
Manandeep Singh, Delhi Dynamos:
Former Indian Arrows striker did not have a great season Rangdajied United, which was marred by injuries. The past two years have been forgettable for the sturdy attacker from Hisar. After falling down the pecking order at East Bengal, the striker could only garner six appearances for the Meghalaya side and in those six matches he scored six goals
Manandeep is the only forward selected by the Delhi Dynamos during the draft process, which means he will most probably share striking responsibilities with a foreign name. The 21 year old striker has shown his mettle previously, especially with Air India when Manandeep became the highest Indian goal scorer in the league. Singh has a good left foot, and is not shy of falling back and battling for the ball in the midfield. Under Morgan he was often praised for his good work ethics. Delhi Dynamos would definitely be guilty of pinning goal scoring hopes on this Haryana lad. With his career still budding to blossom- this could be the opportunity which the india striker needs hog some limelight and throw in his contention for the national side again.
Romeo Fernandes, Goa United Bishops:
Another young name to watch out is Romeo Fernandes from Goa. As the Goan team selected their domestic players before the six teams, the name Romeo Fernandes stands out already. The Dempo midfielder caught everyone’s eye during the U-22 AFC qualifiers in Oman. Romeo has represented Dempo at the U-17, 19 and U-20 level.
Romeo scored his first goal for the Whites last season, but he could only take the pitch nine times for Arthur Papas’ side. With the Goan team looking to promote local talent, Romeo could find starts under the Venugopal Dhoot, Dattaraj Salgaocar and Shrinivas Dempo owned side. Romeo, just like Manandeep, hails from a young breed of footballers who focus on the trade of the game with an eye on fitness. Fernandes does pack a punch from the midfield, usually treading the flank. A robust performance in the ISL could be his ticket to a call up for the senior squad as Wim explores his options.
Boithang Haokip, North East United FC
The Shillong Lajong midfielder is undoubtedly one of the hottest properties in Indian football right now. The Manipuri colt finished one his most instrumental seasons with the club, which saw Shillong Lajong not only avoid the drop, but also finish in the top half of the table. Boithang was a regular in Thangboi Singto’s side and after a couple of struggling seasons with the Reds, he burst onto the scene with style. The 22 yr attacking mid struck five goals with numerous assists in the recently concluded season to make himself an irresistible choice for North east united FC.
The former I-league 2 champion will be looking to raise the North East flag ever so high in this league, after some recent triumphs. Haokip is quick, agile and is known for darting runs into the box. He was the main string puller for the Reds in the I-League and will be expected to slot in the same role for his franchise team.
Lalrindika Ralte, Mumbai City FC
The fact that Ralte would seem to be a lot more experienced than others mentioned in the list, itself attests the fact that Dika Ralte has been more than exceptional since his arrival in Goa. Ralte is now a household name in the I-League (plying his trade for East Bengal) and more often than not- in the senior team squad as well.
The Mizo lad started his career at churchill Brothers, and after brief but fruitful( in terms of appearance to goals/assists ratio) stints with Churchill Brothers and Pailan Arrows (AIFF XI then) , Ralte finally settled on the Lal-Holud side of Kolkata. Since then, Ralte has scored 14 goals in two seasons. Add his contribution to the national side, with some breath taking finishes from his left foot- to age 22- Ralte brings a deadly combo to the table. His selection for the Mumbai team could spell a minor triumph in itself, but it still to be seen whether the mizo born winger would do justice to his talent in the league or let the opportunity fizz by.
Pratik Shinde, Pune City FC
Agubly the youngest Indian player in the history to sign a professional contract with a foreign club side, Shinde became one of the most obvious choices for the Pune Franchise during the draft process. Texas-based Glavestone Pirate SC roped in the services of a talented Indian youngster back in 2011 and since then it has been a journey to remember for this Chembur lad. Having represented India at various levels, Pratik is now ready to shine and make a point.
The winger won the 2012 South Central Championship with the pirates before signing a contract with the Houston Hurricanes in 2013. Pratik is already a her for many after the poverty stricken lad made it huge with his sublime skills with the ball and of course There has been a lot of talk around Pratik’s american dream, but the ISL provides him with an apt platform to showcase his learning from places where only other children at is age could dream to visit.