Five emerging Indian footballers from ISL 2020-21
Having just turned 26, Mumbai City FC winger Bipin Singh neither is the youngest on the list nor new to the ISL.
However, until this season, Bipin Singh’s role had been strictly restricted to that of an impact sub, mostly coming in the last few minutes of matches. Despite playing 34 ISL matches in total in his first three seasons, Bipin was on the field for just 1,265 minutes.
Under Sergio Lobera’s wings at Mumbai City this season, though, Bipin Singh was a player transformed and played 1,751 minutes in 22 matches. He was ever-present in Lobera’s attacking trident, alongside Hugo Boumous and Adam Le Fondre.
Bipin Singh’s pace, dribbling ability and runs in between the opposition defensive lines was an integral component in Mumbai winning the League Winners Shield as well as the ISL 2020-21 title.
Bipin Singh scored six goals and laid out four assists this season, making him the joint-highest Indian goals contributor this season alongside Indian icon Sunil Chhetri, who scored eight and assisted in two.
Bipin also scored the season’s only hat-trick during Mumbai’s 6-1 drubbing of Odisha FC in the league phase. His telling contribution, though, came on the biggest stage – the ISL 2020-21 final.
Having fallen behind to ATK Mohun Bagan, it was Bipin Singh’s adventurous run in the box which forced Tiri’s own goal to bring Mumbai back on level terms.
In stoppage time, Bipin Singh again sprung up in ATK Mohun Bagan’s penalty box to strike the late winner, which secured Mumbai City’s maiden title.
His stellar performances have also seen him being included in India’s 27-member squad for the March friendlies against Oman and UAE.
Lalengmawia, popularly called Apuia, showed glimpses of his brilliance in the latter stages of last season but came forth as an emerging force in Indian football this season.
The 20-year-old central midfielder impressed fans and pundits alike with his matured and consistent displays at the centre of the park for NorthEast United FC, helping Khalid Jamil’s Highlanders to the semi-finals.
The Mario Balotelli fan also scored his maiden ISL goal – a stunning long ranger against Kerala Blasters FC – to seal NorthEast’s playoff spot.
The Mizo youngster’s ball retention capacity even under pressure and ability to pick out passes from deep is top-notch and is a throwback to former India great Climax Lawrence at his prime.
Lalengmawia’s proficiency at taking long-range shots from outside the box and leadership quality also resemble the enigmatic Goanese midfielder’s prowess in his heydays.
The youngster has already captained the Highlanders twice this season, making him the youngest captain in ISL history. Lalengmawia, quite rightfully, won the ISL Emerging Player of the Year Award for 2020-21.
Probably Lalengmawia’s closest competitor for the Emerging Player of the Year award, Hyderabad FC left-back Akash Mishra left quite an impression in his maiden ISL season.
Signed from Indian Arrows heading into ISL 2020-21, the 19-year-old UP boy wasn’t expecting much game time for the Nizams. However, Akash Mishra found himself in Hyderabad FC’s starting XI for their first match of the campaign against Odisha FC.
After the match – a 1-0 win -- Hyderabad FC head coach Manuel Márquez Roca came out and tipped Akash Mishra to become India’s top left-back in the future. Since then, Akash Mishra played every minute of Hyderabad FC’s ISL 2020-21 campaign.
While the Nizams narrowly missed qualification to the playoffs, they were in the race right until the final day and Akash Mishra’s performances were a big part of that.
Equally adept at defending and in attack, Akash Mishra was a workhorse down Hyderabad FC’s left flank. In his 20 appearances, Akash Mishra affected 80 tackles, 48 clearances, 55 interceptions and 37 blocks. He also had an assist to his name.
Akash Mishra’s team-mate at Hyderabad FC, 22-year-old Liston Colaco didn’t quite play as many minutes as his young peer.
Colaco was restricted to just 947 minutes of football in 19 matches for Hyderabad FC this season, but the Goanese forward lit up the field whenever he entered the field.
Colaco’s ability to run at pace and glide past opposition defenders with ease made him a nightmare to deal with for every team in the league. He also had two goals and three assists to show for his troubles – impressive numbers for his limited game time.
Nobody has quite embodied the term impact sub in the ISL as much as Ishan Pandita has this season.
Though this was his debut season in India, Ishan Pandita’s name has been familiar to passionate Indian football fans, courtesy of him playing in Spain’s lower divisions.
So, when FC Goa signed the New Delhi-born player for ISL 2020-21, there was a big buzz surrounding the 22-year-old. FC Goa fans, though, saw the striker on the field for just 131 minutes over 19 matches.
However, it was all it took for Ishan Pandita to score four goals – all of them either late winners or point-saving goals as a substitute. His goals proved crucial in FC Goa’s charge to the semi-finals and a record-breaking 15-match unbeaten run.
-Mintoo Kumar Yadav