As part of our NxGn India series, Goal takes a closer look at the most promising young talents in the country. Having revealed the ten potential stars who have found a place in this year's list, it's time for an in-depth peek at these players who could play a huge part in the country's future.
Next up is Indian Arrows' playmaker Ayush Adhikari, someone who has taken a very interesting route before joining the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) development project.
The 19-year-old attacking midfielder has had a brilliant season with Indian Arrows in the I-League this time around and has made fans and pundits sit up and take note. He made 13 appearances in the season so far, with 12 of them starts.
He's ticked a lot of right boxes as an attacking midfielder playing against established overseas and domestic players. Adhikari has shown that he possesses plenty of vision and composure to orchestrate proceedings from advanced positions on the field. One of his best performances came in Arrows' 1-0 win over East Bengal where Adhikari was one of the standout performers.
"It has been a very good experience. The season was full of lessons for me," Adhikari told Goal. "It was a great opportunity to play in the I-League and improve my game. It was a great learning curve and it helped me mature as a player."
Also worth noting is the partnerships he has forged with other forwards in the league, especially Vikram Pratap Singh and Rohit Danu. Their combination has produced some electric moments and Adhikari clearly loves playing alongside the talented duo.
"Playing with them is good. They are really intelligent and we have a good partnership going. Our coaches including Venky sir (Arrows Head Coach Shanmugan Venkatesh) give us good instructions on how to play. It was really helpful and I really enjoy playing with Rohit and Vikram. We share a very good partnership," he explained.
Ayush comes from a family that loves sport. His father is a football coach at a local academy near his home in Delhi and that is where he started to realise his passion for football.
"I started playing football when I was six or seven. My father was a coach in a local academy near my house. There was always football in my house and there were athletes in my family. From there, it became my passion," he said.
But the turning point in his journey came when he was selected for a stint in Germany as part of U Dream Football Programme, a training programme by U Sports that offered young talented footballers exposure abroad. He spent four years in Germany, at Hoffenheim and Bitburg - an experience that moulded him into the player he currently is.
"When I was 11 or 12, I went for nationals representing Delhi and then while playing for the U14s, I was selected for the U Dream Football programme in Germany. We were there for almost four years," he said.
"Germany played a huge part in improving my game because I learnt the basics of football there and it was a really good experience. I was at Hoffenheim and then we shifted to Bitburg. The infrastructure and facilities were really good and playing alongside and against European players was a great eye-opener."
Once he returned from Germany, at the start of the 2018-19 season, Ayush joined Bengaluru-based Ozone FC where he played in the I-League second division and the Bangalore Super Division league. He then went on grab the limelight with a telling campaign in the Santosh Trophy with Delhi where he topscored for them with six goals.
His performances attracted the attention of Indian Super League (ISL) clubs and it was Kerala Blasters who managed to sign him up. However, Indian Arrows were impressed by him and gave him an offer which he duly accepted.
"I came back (from Germany) and the season was going to start in India. That was last year. Then I signed for Ozone FC. I also played Santosh trophy for Delhi last season. Then I got an offer from Kerala Blasters. I took it up and then I came to play Santosh Trophy again. After that I got a call from Arrows, and I opted to sign for them."
The decision to play for Arrows turned out to be the right choice for Ayush, given the consistent playing time that he has got. That is a factor he will continue to consider in his future moves as well.
"I’ve not really figured out my future move yet. I have to improve my game a lot more. I have come to know where I stand after this season. I need more game time. So those are my priorities right now."
One thing is for sure, the Delhi-born lad has a bright future in front of him, provided he continues to work hard on his game.