The dearth of left-footed players has been a big problem in Indian football for some time now and has often hampered the balance of the national team. Indian football fans would fondly remember K Ajayan’s super strike against Syria in the 2007 Nehru Cup but the Kerala man wasn’t consistent at international level and doesn’t feature in the I-League these days.
Renedy Singh is the only quality left-footed player that India has had at international level for more than a decade. The Manipuri is equally adept with both feet as he could take set pieces from either feet and from any side of the pitch. His crossing has been second to none over the years and even at the age of 32, he produced flashes of his brilliance in the 2011 Nehru Cup. The left-footed shot that rattled the Bahrain bar and eventually led to India’s second goal in the 2-5 defeat would long live in the memory of the Indian football fraternity.
The Manipuri has been in a class of his own for almost 15 years and remains a role model and an example to follow not only for aspiring footballers, but also current players. Now at Shillong Lajong, Renedy is nearing the end of his career and is unlikely to appear for India again.
So which of the current left-footed players in the I-League can stake a claim to at least come close to Renedy’s quality if not match it? Sportskeeda lists the top five:
1. Lalrindika Ralte (East Bengal)
The 20-year-old still has plenty to prove at domestic and international level but when it comes to left-footed players, there is none better than this Mizoram lad currently. Lalrindika can produce quality show with his left foot from both set-pieces and crosses, but it’s his ability to consistently score or test the goalkeeper from distance that makes him the most lethal left-footed player in the country. Lalrindika’s talent was evident from a very young age as he impressed at various age group levels for India. He continued his development at Indian Arrows (now Pailan Arrows) and scored quite a few goals with his left foot during his stint at Churchill Brothers. He has adapted to his new club, East Bengal in fine fashion this season and scored the winner – another left-footed scorcher – in the semi-final against Churchill Brothers. In the I-League too, he has scored with some fine strikes, one of which you can watch in the video below. He already has 10 caps at international level and will be eager to score his first senior goal for India with one of his trademark left-footed screamers.
This TFA (Tata Football Academy) product has won almost every domestic trophy with Dempo and is currently a senior member of the Indian national team. Clifford has been one of the most consistent left-sided midfielders in the last 7-8 years. Although he doesn’t score enough goals from distance, the deliveries that he produces from set-pieces and wide areas are absolute quality and have even given problems to some of the best defences in the continent. Dempo have scored plenty of goals from Clifford’s crosses or set-pieces over the years and the midfielder’s quality was instrumental in the Goan club’s semi-final run in the 2008 AFC Cup. Although he is 30 now, Clifford continues to get assists for club and country, largely thanks to his left foot. Due to Renedy’s presence, Clifford was mostly a squad player during Bob Houghton’s tenure but under new India coach Wim Koevermans, Clifford seems revitalised as he bagged two assists in Nehru Cup 2012, including one in the final, and also converted India’s fifth penalty in the 5-4 shootout win over Cameroon ‘B’ (watch video below).
Paite is another TFA graduate who joined Churchill Brothers in 2006 and spent five memorable years there. With the media spotlight mostly on Kolkata clubs, Paite’s talents only came to the limelight during Churchill Brothers’ I-League title winning season in 2008-09. Paite was an important member of that team as his quality service from the left flank made a difference throughout that campaign. The Manipuri can also take powerful shots with his left foot with the fine goal against Mohammedan Sporting being one of the best goals of the 2008-09 I-League. He moved to East Bengal in 2011 and possibly, his most memorable goal came in a red-and-gold jersey. That strike (watch video below from 2:28 onwards) was not only special because of its quality but also importance as it was the goal that won East Bengal the Federation Cup semi-final against Prayag United. With the score locked at 1-1, it was a moment of magic from Paite that took East Bengal to the final. Pune FC fans can expect something similar during his loan spell there.
Like Ralte, young Robin still has plenty to prove in his career but in terms of talent and quality, few left-footed players can match this 22-year-old. The TFA product first caught the attention with a match winning display in the 2009 IFA Shield to knock out East Bengal from the group stage. Robin is tall and physically well built unlike Indian footballers in general, but it’s his powerful left foot that stands out. Robin had a dream debut season at East Bengal in 2010-11 (watch some of the goals below) as he inspired them to three trophies and earlier that year, he also helped Bengal win the Santosh Trophy. As a result, sections of the media even vouched for Robin’s inclusion in India’s Asian Cup 2011 squad. The Noida lad however hasn’t done justice to his potential in the last 18 months as the pressure to deliver at East Bengal has been immense. Nonetheless, he still remains one of the most talented players in the country and can only improve with time.
This Kerala central midfielder, who started his career as a striker, is possibly the best left-footed central midfielder in the country. His consistency between 2008 and 2011 while at United Sports Club (now Prayag United), probably even merited a place in the national team as besides dictating play with his left foot, Denson would set up plenty of goals from freekicks and corners. He also has the ability to score from distance and his best goal till date came in one of the biggest stages, the 2010 Santosh Trophy final. Playing for Bengal (he was eligible as he was playing for a Kolkata club) against Punjab, Denson scored the winner with an unstoppable left-footer (see video below) to give the football crazy state their first Santosh Trophy crown in ten years. At 29, he doesn’t have much time to make a mark on the international stage but some consistent displays (some great strikes would help) for his new club Mohun Bagan could catch the attention of Koevermans, who did include Denson in the 2012 Nehru Cup preparatory camp.