Stephen Constantine on Wednesday bemoaned the lack of attacking options in his Indian football team. “You tell me. If there’s a fit striker out there who’s of the required level, I’m happy to take him into the squad,” he said in a press conference.

He was right. Unfortunately, developing strikers of the requisite calibre is not a stop-gap fix but a long-term developmental process. It’s not a question of replacing Sunil Chhetri, IM Vijayan, or Bhaichung Bhutia, but finding competent strikers to play in the system.

The Indian Super League hardly sees any game-time for young Indian strikers. Constantine even joked that he would like to see no foreigners in the ISL, given the chance.

The question obviously is: are Indian strikers good enough to start and will the head coach take a punt on them? A look at Indian strikers, officially aged 23 and below, reveals a paucity of personnel:

Manvir Singh (FC Goa)

Learning from the attacking set-up of Coro and Sergio Lobera, and three goals to boot in the SAFF Championships, Manvir Singh has had a meteoric rise since bagging the winner for Bengal in the Santosh Trophy. He also bagged a goal for the Indian Under-23s against Turkmenistan in the AFC U23 qualifiers.

Manvir could be used as a super-sub at the AFC Asian Cup next year. He is firmly in Constantine’s plans as one of the four strikers to head to Jordan. Game-time is a problem but a move away from Goa could prove beneficial to long-term national-team ambitions.

Daniel Lalhlimpuia (Delhi Dynamos)

A stop-start career for the Mizo. Once touted as one of the brightest talents to come out of the Chandigarh Football Academy, Lalhlimpuia’s growth at Bengaluru FC stopped as he failed to break into the first-team squad.

Given a new lease of life at the capital club, the inconsistencies in his game will surely have to be stamped out in order to get ahead in the pecking order. He has played 251 minutes, more than any other ISL striker below 23, but the 21-year-old is yet to open his account for his new club.

Farukh Choudhary (Jamshedpur)

Choudhary seems to be playing second-fiddle to Gaurav Mukhi at Jamshedpur but has managed to finally score for Jamshedpur, his only goal in 17 appearances for the side.

Starting his career with Central Bank, Choudhary broke out at Lonestar Kashmir where he scored five goals in 15 second-division matches. Kerala Blasters took a punt on him and he was loaned to Mumbai the following season. He is in Constantine’s plans but yet to make an impact with the national team.

Samuel Lalmuanpuia (Shillong Lajong)

The Shillong Lajong striker, ‘Samuela’ as he is known, possibly has accrued the most game-time of any striker, ISL or I-League, at his age. Made captain of Lajong at 19, Samuela’s extended stay with his home-town club has seen him reap the rewards of more minutes.

Now into his fourth season at the age of 20, his dead-ball skills have gained him recognition among Lajong’s and the league’s fans. Yet to become a consistent goal-scorer, it remains to be seen if he eventually switches over to the ISL.


Gani Ahmed Nigam (Gokulam Kerala)

The Gokulam man is off the mark in this season’s I-League, notching a goal in their 3-1 win over Shillong Lajong.

The 19-year-old scored a brace to help Pune City’s U-19 side beat Mohun Bagan in the 121st edition of the IFA shield in June 2017. He was subsequently called up to the senior side halfway through the last ISL season.

The others

The I-League has many Indian strikers listed in their squads, but they are mostly overshadowed by their foreign counterparts. The ISL, its bigger brother, has barely any, with playing time being a distant dream.

Aniket Jadhav and Rahim Ali will turn out this season for the Arrows, while Gaurav Mukhi, whose age is a topic of debate, continues to get opportunities for Jamshedpur. Pranjal Bhumij has come off the bench to score a goal for Mumbai City but not much else. Kivi Zhimomi, the NorthEast United striker from Nagaland, who briefly impressed for Gokulam last season is out injured.

Finally, we come to Uttam Rai, still 21 and playing for Churchill Brothers. Why finish with Uttam? Because he is symbolic of India’s striking malaise. Highly touted, some calling him the next Bhutia, trained at the IMG Academy in the United States and now a journeyman striker moving from club to club. This is possibly the path followed by most young Indian strikers.

As Sunil Chhetri approaches the end of his illustrious career, the Indian team will need one of the above to step up. But remember, Chhetri was good enough for Mohun Bagan to scout and sign him up at 17. None of the above, the Arrows team not included, can lay claim to have played top-flight football at that age.