Bengaluru FC striker Sivasakthi Narayanan has been magnificent for his side this season. Having returned to the starting lineup after recovering from a brief injury, Narayanan has his side reborn into a different element in the recent few games in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23.

His brace in the last match against Chennaiyin FC was his first-ever brace in the Hero ISL, taking his goal tally to four goals and becoming Bengaluru FC’s leading-joint goalscorer this season alongside midfielder Javi Hernandez. 

Narayanan’s eminence in the league could not have come at a better time this season, especially when the race for the top six is gaining immense ground, with Odisha FC and Chennaiyin FC actively involved in the race. Positioned seventh in the league standings with 22 points, the Blues are a point adrift of Odisha FC, who are placed sixth. Grayson’s side managed four resounding victories on the spin that oversaw 11 goals being scored where the forward was involved in all four wins, thereby providing a huge boost and keeping the competition for the playoffs spot alive. 

The youngster, who was pivotal in the Blues’ Durand Cup title triumph by being their top scorer, had a few hiccups in the earlier months of the season that saw the side on their worst-ever run of fixtures. However, after missing a chunk of games due to injury, the 21-year-old has shaken apart the defences of several teams with his prolific finishing, off-the-ball runs, and a heightened sense of footwork coupled with his pace.

While Grayson might have taken the bold step of placing his faith in a youngster like Narayanan rather than the veteran Sunil Chhetri, it has been reaping him fruitful rewards, especially at such a valuable moment in the league.

The Next Gen Striker?

The striker’s addition, or rather return, in the starting lineup has sparked the fire back in the team. To put this in the larger context, Grayson's side had scored only eight goals in the first 12 matches but with Narayanan back starting games, they found the net 11 times in the last four games.

Hero ISL expert and commentator Erik Paartalu believes he has been developing extensively and his form is now leading Bengaluru FC.

“He's one of the best finishers I've ever seen, not just in India, but in the world. You know, he's got that knack of running with the ball at speed, and he's able to take the ball in one step one direction, plant his foot and have a shot in a quick one-two movement, and he's extremely good at that,” the former Bengaluru FC player says.

“He's only a small lad, that's always the concern, (but) he can step up and play at a higher level of international football. The way he's riding tackles and the way he finishes right now makes him so dangerous. His finishing ability and his quality of finishing, the two finishes he had on the weekend, were taken with a lot of composure. Name any other younger player that would do that in the final stages of the game. He's got great composure for a young kid and that's something special,” he adds.

Hero ISL commentator Mark Tompkins has a similar view and feels Bengaluru FC have an uncut diamond in Sivasakthi Narayanan, who has the potential to knock on the doors of the national team.

“Bengaluru FC clearly have got a diamond in him, and I'm looking forward to seeing him for the rest of the season, getting a few more goals and who knows, maybe he can even force himself into the national setup with a few more good performances like that. But certainly, he's been one of the standout performances so far this season in the whole league this term of new Indian players,” says Tompkins.

The Chhetri connection

Grayson has effectively implemented his strategies, which, although they have come a bit late, have been in tune with the club’s recent performances, not just attacking- wise but overall. While the Roy Krishna and Narayanan duo has been rocking the stage upfront, the Englishman has a torrent of top-notch and experienced attackers in the likes of Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh, and Pablo Perez. This trio from the bench has been largely unused and can prove to be the differentiating factor for Bengaluru FC in the search for the three points.

Despite the absence of Chhetri on the field and in the playing XI, Bengaluru FC’s no.11 has been ever-present in the team as a leader and a highly influential figure in the dressing room. Sivasakthi’s recent emergence stems from his hard work, perseverance and determination in the game. However, sharing the dressing room with India’s most experienced striker has added value not just to his skills and attributes but also as an individual as a whole.

“When you've got players like Sunil Chhetri training with you daily, and you're learning from their experience, it can only benefit young players like Siva, who has come on leaps and bounds in the last few matches. And he's formed a great partnership with Roy Krishna. There's a great understanding between the two of them as well,” adds Tompkins.

Though the presence of Chhetri has surely helped, Paartalu has a slightly different view of the Chhetri-Siva connection.

“He doesn't need Sunil Chhetri. He (Siva) knows this. He's (Chhetri’s) trying to help and develop him. I'm sure being around Sunil Chhetri, doing the extra shooting is 100% helping him, but he doesn't play now. Here's the next generation. He has to block out now all the attention that's been given to him,” Paartalu says 

“I'm sure he will, and he's got some great people around him that will give him that advice. And you can see he's already got a level head. I'd love to see Sivasakhti take this forward now and get himself a couple of more goals before the end of the season and then really establish himself as one of the premier strikers in the competition,” he concludes.

Arguably one of the best U-23 players this season and the top U-23 goalscorer this season, Narayanan’s terrific form of late has been highly beneficial for the Blues. The forward is already climbing the ladder of success and needs to be at his best to sustain his ongoing fiery form and be the shining light to guide his side into the playoffs.