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ISL 2021-22: Best U-23 players to look out for in each club

9:34 AM IST 12/11/21
Rahim Ali Chennaiyin
From Vikram Pratap Singh to Rahim Ali, there will be a host of youngsters who will be eager to steal the spotlight...

Since the inception of the Indian Super League (ISL) several youngsters have made a name for themselves. Many of them have even gone to represent India as well. Sandesh Jhingan won the ISL Emerging Player of the Year award in 2014 and the defender has not looked back since then. The other prominent winners of the award have been Jeje Lalpekhlua, Sahal Abdul Samad, Sumit Rathi, and Lalengmawia Ralte who have been key players for their respective clubs.

With seven Indians to feature in the starting eleven from the upcoming season, it is expected that more opportunities will be provided to the youngsters. And with matches coming in thick and fast at the business end of the season, there will be opportunities galore for players. Players like Vikram Pratap Singh, Rahim Ali, were in a rich vein of form with the India U-23 side and they will be eager to make a mark on the biggest stage in Indian domestic football as well.

Let us take a look at some of the best Under-23 players in the ISL.

  • Deepak Tangri India U-23

    Deepak Tangri (ATK Mohun Bagan)

    Very few know that Deepak Tangri is an academy product of Mohun Bagan who honed his skills under Jo Paul Ancheri at Mohun Bagan's SAIL Academy in Durgapur. He further blossomed at Indian Arrows and in the summer of 2021, he joined Bagan from Chennaiyin FC.

    Tangri is a versatile player who can play as a defensive midfielder and also as a centre back. He shone in the AFC U23 Asian Cup Qualifiers for India at the heart of defence and will look to establish himself as one of the starters in a start-studded ATK Mohun Bagan squad.

  • Suresh Singh Bengaluru FC Bashundhara Kings AFC Cup 2021

    Suresh Singh Wangjam (Bengaluru FC)

    The Manipuri defensive midfielder is currently one of the top talents in Indian football. He is an undisputed starter in Bengaluru FC, features regularly for the Indian national team, and is the skipper of the India U-23 side. He is a bundle of energy in midfield as he covers almost every blade of grass on the pitch. He breaks down attacks and is even a good runner with the ball. The 21-year-old is known for his tackling as well.

  • Rahim Ali of Chennaiyin FC after scoring against East Bengal

    Rahim Ali (Chennaiyin FC)

    Rahim Ali is going into this edition of ISL in the best shape possible. He has tasted success in the last couple of months under Igor Stimac with the national team and now will look to replicate that form at the domestic level. In the friendlies against Nepal, he was a livewire in attack and was equally impressive in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers.

    In the previous season, he played over 1000-minutes for Chennaiyin but could score only twice. This time he will be eager to convert more chances by being more clinical in front of goal.

  • Amarjit Singh Kiyam India U23

    Amarjit Singh Kiyam (East Bengal)

    A couple of years back Amarjit Singh was regarded amongst the best young midfielders in the country. He made his national team debut in the King's Cup in Thailand in 2019. In fact, he was the first player to be born after 2000 to make a debut for India. However, injuries plagued his progress. In East Bengal's Manuel Diaz, he has found a manager who can help him get back on track.

    The former Real Madrid Castilla manager has moulded the careers of several stars like Lucas Vasquez, Mariano Diaz, Diego Llorente in their youth and Amarjit will certainly look to learn a few more tricks of the trade from the experienced Spaniard. He is known for his energetic performances wherein he harries the opposition midfielders to win the ball.

  • Dheeraj Singh India U23

    Dheeraj Singh (FC Goa)

    The young goalkeeper was arguably the best player for India in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers. In each of the three matches, he made numerous outstanding saves to spare India the blushes. He was in equally good form during the group stages of the AFC Champions League for the Gaurs and his heroics helped

    Juan Ferrando get a few draws against technically better sides from West Asia. He is brilliant in one-on-one situations, is a good shot-stopper, and has excellent reflexes which make him one of the best in the business. If he works a bit on the art of collecting crosses, he has the potential to be a worthy successor to Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

  • Hyderabad ISL Asish Rai

    Asish Rai (Hyderabad FC)

    The defender has the potential to become one of the best wing-backs of the country. He had a few good outings with the India U-23 side in October and is raring to take the pitch once again. He played over 1500 minutes in the previous season before he suffered picked up an injury.

    Not only is he defensively solid but also can overlap to help in attack. Head coach Manuel Marquez is a big fan of Rai and hailed him as 'the most improved player' last season.

  • Narender Gahlot Jamshedpur

    Narender Gahlot (Jamshedpur FC)

    The centre-back showed during the AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers that he can be relied upon when the going gets tough. He forged a wonderful partnership with Deepak Tangri at the heart of defence and that should impress Jamshedpur's head coach Owen Coyle.

    Unfortunately last year, he suffered an injury early in the campaign which ruled him out for most of the season. He did make a comeback but failed to convince with his performances. The onus is on Gehlot to make a mark and stake a claim for a beth in the senior India team.

  • Bengaluru Kerala Blasters ISL Rahul KP

    Rahul KP (Kerala Blasters)

    The winger has been around in the domestic circuit since 2017. He has been with Kerala Blasters for a couple of years now after moving on from Indian Arrows. With each passing season, he has matured as a player and this might be the campaign where he could finally realise his full potential. He played over 1000 minutes for Blasters in the previous season but could score only thrice. If he becomes more level-headed in front of goal, he will be a blue-eyed boy of the Kerala fans.

    He has all the ingredients to be the best winger given that he has raw pace coupled with his dribbling ability and a knack of taking on defenders. He has done well for the India Under-23 side and Blasters coach Ivan Vukomanovic will hope to get the best out of him this term.

  • Vikram Pratap Singh Indian Arrows NEROCA FC I-League 2019-20

    Vikram Pratap Singh (Mumbai City FC)

    Not many would contest that Vikram Pratap Singh was the best on-field player during the AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers. He was absolutely brilliant on the right-wing and most of India's chances were created through that flank. He produced his best performance against Oman where he earned India a penalty with his blistering run and then went on to score a goal later in the match.

    Although he didn't get many opportunities to shine in the previous season in ISL, it is evident that he made the most of the training sessions under Sergio Lobera. He carries the ball well, makes incisive runs into the box, and even has the vision to create openings for his fellow strikers to score. Des Buckingham has a difference-maker in his ranks and if the coach backs him to the hilt, he will be an asset for the Islanders.

  • Roccharzela Real Kashmir Aizawl FC I-League 2019-20

    Rochharzela (NorthEast United FC)

    The 23-year-old forward had become a household name in Aizawl after his consistent performances for the north-eastern club. He even won the Best Young Player award in Mizoram Premier League in 2017-18. After spending three years with the People's Club, he joined the Highlanders in 2020.

    However, despite not getting regular minutes under Khalid Jamil, he still managed to score one and assist two last season. With more Indians in the starting XI this time around, he could get more minutes under his belt.

  • Akshunna Tyagi, Odisha FC

    Akshunna Tyagi (Odisha FC)

    The 19-year-old had scored 20 goals in just 14 matches in the last edition of the AIFF Elite League and it is no surprise that he has been promoted to the senior team. He honed his skills at the Mohun Bagan SAIL Academy before moving to the youth set-up of Odisha FC.

    He had been prolific in front of goal in the age-group tournaments and showed enough potential to be regarded as one of the promising strikers of the country. Under Kiko Ramirez, he is expected to make a mark this season.