The Indian Super League started in October 2014 with eight franchises in the roster. While the league made a lot of right noises for being able to attract world stars, a lot of the early uproar centred on the low number of Indians playing in a team and how the Indian stars would lack the exposure the league promised to bring.
Three years since, the league has seen a lot of youngsters come to the fore and gain valuable experience through the three month extravaganza. While the likes of Sandesh Jhingan, Romeo Fernandes and Mandar Rao Desai were the bright young sparks of the first season, the likes of Zodingliana Ralte, Ashutosh Mehta, and Thongkhosiem Haokip were the standout youngsters from the second.
While the seasoned pros such as Sunil Chhetri, Jeje, Arnab Mondal, and Eugeneson Lyngdoh also had recognisable performances, it was these youngsters, who seldom get a chance to play or make an impact in front of a huge audience, who stood out.
Even in the ongoing third season, the number of youngsters making a mark has only risen. A great sign and one that would make ISL proud and worthwhile, there have been some stellar performances from young shoulders who have gone on to produce performances of note and helped their respective teams to put in strong performances.
Here is a look at the youngsters that seem to have impressed this season:
1. Lalhmangaihsanga Ralte – Mumbai City FC
Commonly known as Sena Ralte, the diminutive Mizoram left-back made the first real impact in Indian football for Royal Wahingdoh where he produced a series of solid performance that helped Wahingdoh earn promotion. The youngster did not stop and formed a great rapport with Jackichand Singh and the duo wreaked havoc on the left wing for Wahingdoh who were the surprise package of the 2014-‘15 season of the I-League where they finished third.
Having impressed ISL scouts, Ralte made a move to Chennaiyin FC for the 2015 season but having started the early phase, lost his place to the more experienced Dhanachandra Singh. Come 2016, Ralte found himself being traded to Mumbai City FC where the young full back has started in all seven games for the Ranbir Kapoor-owned side (already one more than last season’s tally) and has been one of the standout performers.
Ralte has not only given a strong cushion on the left for Mumbai but has also been a spark going forward and has added the element to the team’s play which has made them look lethal at times.
2. Chinglensana Singh – Delhi Dynamos
The 19-year-old tall and strong centre-back spent his early days in the academies of Mahindra United, Air India and Tata Football Academy before securing a deal for Shillong Lajong. On loan to the Delhi Dynamos, Chinglensana has slotted in really well for the injured Anas Edathodika and has been a shield alongside Rocha at the heart of defence.
The India Under-19 player has made six appearances for the Dynamos this season and also has an Emerging Player award to his name in addition to a string of impressive performances that has caught the eye of one and all.
3. Milan Singh – Delhi Dynamos
Delhi Dynamos have gone in with a relatively young Indian squad and one of the players that has impressed is Milan Singh. The Manipuri central midfielder has been one of the orchestrators for the Dynamos.
Starting off at Pailan Arrows in 2010, Milan then plied his trade with Shillong Lajong and DSK Shivajians but has made a mark for himself only this season of the ISL despite having a few decent outings for his I-League clubs and for India at the Under-23 level.
4. Jayesh Rane – Chennaiyin FC
The young forward dropped hints of him making it big in the future when he became the top scorer in the Under-20 I-League for Mumbai FC in the 2011-‘12 season, netting 13 times for the Mumbai-based side. Being inducted to the first team thereon, chances came hard for the 24-year-old talented forward and it was only with Chennaiyin FC in first two seasons that Rane cemented his place and made a strong note of his abilities.
Come the third season, Rane was an important member of the side that saw their prolific scorer Stiven Mendoza not turning up for the season. Rane started off with a bang, scoring in the opener and then went on to create three goals for his partners to help Chennaiyin FC’s resurgence in the season 3 of the ISL.
5. Jerry Lalrinzuala – Chennaiyin FC
“He is a boy but plays like a man.” When someone of the stature of Marco Materazzi has this to say about a young defender, you can only assume how impressive he would have been.
The 18-year-old, a prospect from the All India Football Federation's Elite Academy, was one of the five players that were sponsored for an exposure trip to French club FC Metz and he has made the most of that opportunity. A regular in the India age-group sides, Jerry has given account of why he is regarded highly.
Having conceded a penalty in the first game, minutes after coming on, that led to the loss of his side, the youngster has shown strong character in being able to get up from that situation and be instrumental in a strong run for Chennaiyin FC.
6. Prabir Das – Atletico de Kolkata
Prabir Das is another Pailan Arrows product who got lost in the middle before rising back this season of the ISL. Starting as a striker, Prabir Das was drafted in as a full-back slowly for Atletico de Kolkata. Playing as a right-back, Prabir made the most of his speed, stamina and crossing abilities to threaten the opposition and was a part of the Dempo SC squad.
Das then never really got a chance in the first couple of editions of the ISL but has made the most of his chances in the third slotting in as the left back and adjusting in no time to make the place his own.
7. Rowlin Borges – NorthEast United
One of the Indian players of the season, Borges has not come much to the notice of the fans for his position in the side but his impact has been massive. Playing as a defensive shield for the NorthEast United FC, Borges has controlled play and the pace of it at will and in favour of the Highlanders.
A bundle of energy, Borges is capable of playing the up-down game and also has the odd tendency to score a goal or two with his ferocious strikes.
Apart from the aforementioned names, there are a few other youngsters who have been impressive. The likes of Debjit Majumder, Pratik Chaudhuri, and Pratesh Shirodkar have given account of their talent and are the ones to watch out for as the Indian Super League helps these youngsters establish a name for themselves.