Best Indian debutants to emerge from Hero ISL 2020-21
Like past seasons, Hero Indian Super League 2020-21 lived up to its billing as fans got to witness 115 competitive games between 11 teams in what was the most demanding season yet since the league’s inception in 2014. The one common thing in all seven editions of Hero ISL so far has been the league’s ability to unearth new talents year after year. The likes of Sandesh Jhingan and Sahal Abdul Samad are just a couple of names who first shone in the Hero ISL before going on to achieve more success with the Indian national team. Similar to past campaigns, Hero ISL 2020-21 also featured plenty of previously lesser-known domestic talents who impressed coaches and fans alike. While there were plenty of top Indian performers in their debut Hero ISL campaign, here we look at the some of the best domestic players who shone in their first-ever season in India’s top football division.
Akash Mishra quickly became one of the first names on the teamsheet for Manuel Marquez’s Hyderabad FC side. He started all 20 of Hyderabad’s matches and made the leftback spot his own courtesy of his calmness and confidence on the ball. Playing in his debut Hero ISL campaign, Akash didn’t seem overawed by the occasion and instead gave the opposition many headaches while bombing forward. He made 37 blocks, 48 clearances, 55 interceptions and 80 tackles over the course of the season. The 19-year-old’s ability to sense the danger also saw him make quite a few goalline clearances and last-ditch tackles. He also provided an assist and his solid performances earned him a national team call-up. He was also Emerging Player of the Month for January.
A lot was expected of Ishan Pandita in his debut Hero ISL campaign after the youngster had honed his skill with numerous lower division clubs in Spain. A part of the Gaurs set-up under Juan Ferrando, it’s worth mentioning that the young forward didn’t have many opportunities to impress under the Spaniard. That said, he made the most of the minutes he did get by continuously making an impact from the bench as a super-sub. The 22-year-old made 11 appearances for FC Goa, playing just 131 minutes but scoring four goals during that time. All his strikes came at crucial junctures as a substitute and helped FC Goa earn important points. One to watch out for in the future, Pandita is just getting started and will look to continue impressing with the Indian national team having also earned a call-up.
Playing in his first Hero ISL season, 28-year-old VP Suhair showed that he can compete with the best in the country and even be the match-winner sometimes. After missing out on the first three matches of the season, Suhair featured in the rest of NorthEast United FC’s matches in Hero ISL 2020-21. He notched up an assist while former head coach Gerard Nus was in charge but only began to show his true potential following Khalid Jamil’s appointment as interim head coach. Under Jamil, Suhair enjoyed more gametime and repaid his coach’s faith in him with crucial goals in the Highlanders’ last two league stage games as well as one in their second leg semi-final. Even though the Highlanders didn’t make it to the final, Suhair can be happy about the role he played in getting them to the semis. He finished the campaign with three goals and an assist.
Glan Martins is another individual who came into his own after a slow start to the season with ATK Mohun Bagan. Martins, in fact, never really got much of a chance to prove himself while with the Mariners as head coach Antonio Lopez Habas opted to mostly use him off in the bench in a limited manner. However, he received a new lease of life after moving to FC Goa in the winter transfer window and it’s safe to say that Glan didn’t look back following the completion of the move. Glan became an integral member of the Gaurs midfield and played a key role in their run to the semis. After joining FC Goa, he ended the season with an assist and one goal, which was a stunning strike from distance that’s a contender for goal of the season.
Young Paul Ramfangzauva didn’t enjoy the best of campaigns being a part of bottom-placed Odisha FC. However, the 20-year-old should be proud of his performances having held his own and not looked out of place during his time on the pitch for the Bhubaneswar-based club. Paul is a confident individual who likes to play on the front foot and is capable of making a difference in the final third with telling passes and powerful strikes. His debut Hero ISL campaign saw him make just five appearances in a struggling Odisha FC outfit, but the 20-year-old did make the most of his limited chances as his brace – which featured a couple of spectacular goals – in his club’s 6-5 win over SC East Bengal demonstrated.