Vineeth, Lewis, Borges draw immense praise from legendary coaches
Hero Indian Super League 2016 has seen a significant step-up in the quality of football on display and domestic talents have played their part with distinction. Of 134 goals scored so far this season, 32 have been scored by Indians besides also accounting for 28 assists. While youngsters like FC Goa’s Sahil Tavora, Delhi Dynamos FC’s Milan Singh and Chennaiyin FC’s Jerry Lalrinzuala have all shined over the course of the season, there have been certain standout players, whose performances have been a class apart, leading to them receiving plaudits from team-mates and coaches alike.
None more so than Kerala Blasters FC’s CK Vineeth, who has taken Hero ISL 2016 by storm despite joining the Blasters eight games into the league stage. The measure of his impact was best summed up by Kerala’s head coach Steve Coppell following the Blasters’ 3-1 win in the second south Indian derby of the season in which the 28-year-old winger bagged a brace. “The two players [CK] Vineeth and Rino [Anto] who came in from Bengaluru FC in a league where you are not allowed to make mid-season signings. For us, it was like signing two new players and psychologically it was important and obviously in performance it has made a big difference and we were delighted to have them and Vineeth's impact has been substantial,” Coppell later said.
In fact, no player – domestic or foreign – has a better minutes/goal ratio than Vineeth’s 95.2 minutes/goal this season. Since returning from AFC Cup participation with Bengaluru FC, the local boy from Kannur has netted five of Kerala’s nine goals and helped them record four successive wins at Kochi, including three winners. He heads into the semi-finals as Kerala’s top-scorer this year as well as the joint-highest domestic goals contributor and sixth overall with his five goals and one assist.
The player Vineeth shares the joint-highest domestic goals contributor record with is Delhi’s Kean Lewis, who has been one of the revelations of Hero ISL 2016 in his debut season. Lewis has been a menace for opposition full-backs all season with his pace and trickery proving too hot to handle. He has fitted in seamlessly into the Lions’ fluid and potent attack force having contributed four goals and two assists thus far.
Aged 24, there is surely more to come from the winger, who can be expected to have a major say in the semi-finals. The fact that Lewis has received a stamp of approval from a bonafide legend of the game in FC Goa head coach Zico is perhaps the biggest validation for one of Indian football’s up-and-coming stars. When asked which Indian players had impressed him the most, the Brazilian legend didn’t take much time to tell who he thought they were. “I think this year there are two good Indian players, Kean Lewis and Rowllin Borges,” Zico said.
With that in mind, it’s a shame that Borges’ participation in the league has ended after NorthEast United FC narrowly missed out on the semi-finals for the second year running. Happy to do all the dirty work in front of his backline, while letting the attackers steal the headlines, Borges’ tactical discipline as the anchorman of his team didn’t go unnoticed. The 24-year-old ended the season with 794 touches of the ball, the most in his team and also completed the most passes (532) and interceptions (32) for the Highlanders.
A team player in every sense of the word, Borges’ importance was noticed during NorthEast’s 3-3 draw against Chennaiyin FC, the only time this season the Highlanders were overrun in midfield and conceded thrice. Nelo Vingada’s post-match press conference offered us more insight into Borges’ significance. “Borges has been an important part of our unit before the defence and we did not have any Indian player to replace him in that position,” the 63-year-old Portuguese said after the Chennaiyin game. The type of player team-mates adore and coaches desire, Borges, who made his international debut for India last year, will definitely go down as one of the finds of Hero ISL 2016.
These great coaches praising Vineeth, Borges and Lewis proves that the Hero ISL continues to be an important platform for nurturing domestic talents. The future of Indian football is definitely in good hands.