The rise of the Indians between the sticks

So often the unsung hero, yet so often the scapegoat. The job of a goalkeeper can be a thankless one, especially in a high-octane environment like the Hero Indian Super League (ISL). For the past few years, the responsibility of holding the fort in the Hero ISL has largely fallen on the foreign contingent. However, since the onset of the fourth season, we have seen a new breed of young and talented Indian custodians rise to the occasion and deliver impressive results for their respective clubs.

Indian custodians dominate season 4

In the 2017-2018 season, Paul Rachubka was the only first-choice ’keeper outside India from the 10 participating teams. The quartet of Vishal Kaith, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, Subrata Paul and Karanjit Singh were the standout performers of the campaign — each completing a total of seven clean sheets. The past campaign gave the Indian ’keepers the opportunity to prove themselves on the pitch, marshalling their defence, involving themselves in ball possession and producing exceptional saves week in and week out.

The undisputed No.1

India’s No.1 for the past few years, Gurpreet has enjoyed a steady rise to the top. In a recent interview with indiansuperleague.com, the Bengaluru FC custodian credits his time in Norway with Stabaek Fotball, which moulded him into a better player. “Of Course. I mean playing in Norway changed me a lot. It changed me physically, mentally and it changed my game.” Gurpreet has firmly established himself as the finest shot-stopper in the country as well as a proficient distributor of the ball from the back.

Good, but not quite good enough

However, he is not the only one to rise above the ranks in the recent past. Karanjit was an integral part of Chennaiyin FC which went on to win the title. The 32-year-old keeper was a commanding figure between the sticks, producing a string of match-winning performances to help John Gregory’s side seal their second Hero ISL title.

Veteran keeper Subrata Paul also had a memorable season for Jamshedpur. The ‘Indian Spiderman’ was an integral figure in the Jamshedpur side, which possessed one of the stingiest defences in the league. Paul finished the season conceding an average of just 0.83 goals per game. But despite the pair’s impressive performances throughout the season, neither of them could book a spot in the national squad for the Hero Intercontinental Cup, owing to the enormous level of competition for the coveted No.1 jersey.

Ones for the future

The displays of Vishal Kaith and Amrinder Singh in the past season have compelled Indian head coach Stephen Constantine to favour them over veterans Karanjit and Subrata. Amrinder had a relatively disappointing season with Mumbai City FC, when they failed to make the play-offs. However, on the individual front, the 25-year-old’s performances did not go unnoticed as he produced a total of 55 saves through the campaign - the most by any player in the league.

Youngster Vishal Kaith enjoyed a breakthrough season with FC Pune City under Ranko Popovic. The 21-year-old, who had previously spent an entire season on the bench with the Stallions, featured in a total of 17 games during the 2017-2018 campaign. Despite earning a call-up, Kaith did not feature for India during the Hero Intercontinental Cup. Nevertheless, his performances indicate that he will be ready to take on the mantle in a few years’ time.

Given their performances in the Hero ISL, the current crop of Indian goalkeepers have set a high standard and will continue to raise the bar with more time between the sticks.

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