“My dream is to play in the Premier League, I'll work hard to make that happen.”
The 2016 ISL is packed with continental stars, but it may well be the Indian players who decide this Championship.
Home-grown players are already having a great bearing on the tournament which began on October 1, 2016.
Already in the competition, the Indian players on our list have contributed 10 goals, assists, and clean sheets between them.
So DESIblitz presents you with the top 5 Indian players to look out for during the rest of ISL 2016.
But which Indian player is your pick of the lot?
Subrata Paul – Goalkeeper
Subrata Paul, 29, is a goalkeeper for the highflying NorthEast United in the 2016 Indian Super League.
He is one of just 3 Indian players to be first choice goalkeepers for their ISL team. Debjit Majumder (Atletico de Kolkata) and Laxmikanth Kattimani (FC Goa) are the other two.
Only two players have been able to score past Paul in his opening five games. And one of those was Diego Forlan with a penalty that the goalkeeper came extremely close to keeping out.
After keeping a clean sheet in their season opener vs Kerala Blasters, Paul also went on to keep out FC Goa and FC Pune City in victories for his side.
In his five appearances, Paul also tops the statistics for the most saves made, with an incredible 24 so far. An impressive return from a home-grown player in the Indian Super League.
Subrata Paul is proving to be one of the most difficult Indian players to get past this season. If he can continue to keep out the opposition, NorthEast United could be the winners of ISL 2016.
Sandesh Jhingan – Defender
Another one of those Indian players who is proving tough to breach, is the imposing defender, Sandesh Jhingan.
Although the Kerala Blasters haven’t quite clicked yet in ISL 2016, 23-year-old Jhingan is performing well. Despite their current mediocre position, Kerala have been largely solid in defence, conceding just two goals.
After narrow 1-0 defeats against NorthEast United and Atletico de Kolkata, Jhingan has helped keep two consecutive clean sheets. He successfully kept out Mumbai City FC in a 1-0 win and Delhi Dynamos in a goalless draw.
Kerala’s big defender was voted the 2014 ISL Emerging Player after helping the Blasters to the final.
His consistently impressive ISL performances led to a call-up to the national team. He’s since won 4 international caps for India, including their unbelievable 4-1 victory over Puerto Rico in September 2016.
Jhingan is already showing remarkable leadership skills, and he looks capable of captaining his country in the future. So be sure to keep an eye on his solid performances.
Kean Lewis – Midfielder
ISL 2016 is Kean Francis Lewis’ debut season in the glamorous Indian league. He joins the Delhi Dynamos after good performances for Mohun Bagan in the 2015/16 I-League.
The winger, who can play as a forward, was particularly impressive in Delhi’s pre-season preparations.
The 23-year-old saw his long distance effort smack against the crossbar in Delhi’s historic match with West Bromwich Albion of the English Premier League.
After starring in his ISL debut against Chennaiyin, where he set up Delhi’s third goal in a 3-1 win, Lewis then struggled to help his side break down a Kerala team which featured Sandesh Jhingan.
He then put in a man-of-the-match performance against league leaders, Northeast United in a 1-1 draw which he scored in. However, a disappointing first half performance against Mumbai City led to Gianluca Zambrotta substituting him at half-time.
If Lewis is able to consistently replicate his best performances, he is sure to be one of the finest Indian players in the league.
Jayesh Rane – Attacking Midfielder
23-year-old Jayesh Rane is a lively Chennaiyin FC player. He is extremely versatile, being able to play comfortably as a forward, winger, or attacking midfielder.
Playing as a winger, Rane scored his first Indian Super League goal in the entertaining 2-2 draw with Kolkata.
He also received a yellow card in the game, but this shows his willingness to help the team defend too.
While supplying crosses and key passes to unlock defences, Rane has also made several blocks, tackles, and interceptions.
If Rane can add more goals and assists to his game, the youngster is sure to receive a national team call-up.
Jeje Lalpekhlua – Forward
Jeje Lalpekhlua is sky high on confidence after scoring in India’s historic 4-1 win over Puerto Rico in September 2016.
However, the 25-year-old Chennaiyin forward hasn’t quite brought that goal scoring form into the 2016 Indian Super League. It’s not for the want of trying, though.
So far this season, he’s twice had efforts on target denied by the opposition goalkeeper. Despite the lack of goals, though, the bright forward has registered two assists so far.
Lalpekhlua set up Jayesh Rane’s goal against Atletico de Kolkata. He also assisted Macpherlin Omagbemi in a 3-1 defeat to Delhi Dynamos FC.
Jeje Lalpekhlua was the top scoring Indian player in the 2014 ISL with 4 goals. Then, in 2015, he was the highest scoring Indian from open play, ending the season with 6 goals and 3 assists.
Already with two assists to his name, the scoring is due to begin sooner rather than later.
The Rise of Indian Players in Football
Ishan Pandita is one of the first Indian players in European football. He became the first Indian in one of Europe’s top 5 leagues after signing for Leganes in La Liga, Spain.
Pandita’s move is momentous to Indian football, and it should serve to motivate other Indian players.
Speaking exclusively to DESIblitz, both Kean Lewis and his Delhi teammate, Rupert Nongrum expressed their wishes to one day play in England.
Nongrum said: “My dream is to play in the Premier League one day. So I would really like to work as hard as I can to make that happen.”
Can any of the Indian players in the 2016 ISL catch the attentions of a European team?
Massive changes to domestic Indian football are set to take effect for the 2017/18 season. The AIFF hope these changes will only further develop Indian football and Indian players.
While Indian players are beginning to thrive, British Asians aren’t doing quite as well. Click here to find out more about the lack of British Asians in English football.
Or you can click here for a full DESIblitz preview to the 2016 Indian Super League, where we speak exclusively to Indian players Rupert Nongrum and Kean Lewis.