They are often referred to as utility players because they sacrifice their natural instincts for the team’s cause. These are players with an all-round ability and a variety of attributes. The importance of these versatile players is often overlooked but they tend to make the difference in crunch situations. So who are the utility men of Indian football?
Sportskeeda lists the top five among current players.
The Tata Football Academy product started his career as a striker until he joined East Bengal where was used as a fullback or midfielder by coach Subhas Bhowmick and he has been playing in those roles ever since. Under Bob Houghton, he mostly used to play as a left midfielder for India but after the Englisman’s departure, Nabi has mainly operated as a fullback on both flanks. Nabi can defend and attack equally well and is very strong in the air which makes him important both while defending and attacking in set-pieces. The 27-year-old is India’s Mr Versatile and is indispensable to club and country and deservingly won the 2012 AIFF Player of the Year Award. Despite playing in defence, Nabi has already scored some important goals for India and is their biggest goal threat after Sunil Chhetri.
2. Harmanjot Singh Khabra (Left/Right Back; Left/Right/Center Midfield)
Club: East Bengal
The Punjabi lad can play anywhere in midfield and although he has played only as a fullback at senior level, Khabra has also operated as a central defender and striker at youth level. At Sporting Goa, Khabra was their ultimate utility man as he could play in various positions and his role would often change during games. The 24-year-old’s versatility has been evident after moving to East Bengal also as he has done a job for the team wherever he has been asked to play by three different coaches. Like Nabi, Khabra too is an all-round footballer as he can pass, make tackles in midfield and also defend in the air and even score the odd goal. He is unfortunate not to be in the national team at present.
3. Adil Khan (Left/Right/Center Back; Left/Right/Center Midfield)
Club: Sporting Clube de Goa
Adil is another player with a variety of qualities and has recently established himself as one of the best utility players in Indian football. Adil has played across the defence and midfield for Sporting Clube and the Goan club has somehow managed to retain his services despite heavy interest from top clubs. However, it’s only a matter of time before Adil joins one of the giants. The 24-year-old is physically well built, strong in the air and can do a very good job for his team defensively. But Adil also has good distribution and can shoot from distance. During Savio Medeira’s reign, Adil became a regular member of the national setup as his versatility was very useful; but so far, he has failed to be a part of Wim Koevermans’ plans.
4. Peter Carvalho (Left/Right Back; Left/Right/Center Midfield)
The 31-year-old has been Dempo’s unsung hero for almost a decade now and is one of the most underrated Indian footballers. Carvalho is capable of playing as a wingback on both flanks and can also operate across the midfield. The Goan has immense work rate and is an expert in breaking up opposition play. While the likes of Ranti Martins, Beto, Climax Lawrence and Clifford Miranda have been making the headlines, Carvalho has been equally important in Dempo’s domination in the Indian league. The 2010-11 campaign remains his best as he chipped in with some important goals and won his first cap for India when Armando was head coach. This season also he has contributed with four goals and has been recalled to the national squad by Koevermans.
5. NP Pradeep (Left/Right/Center Back; Center Midfield; Striker)
Club: Dodsal FC
Six years ago, this man from Kerala would have been at the top of this list. He was a regular in the national team under Bob Houghton and an important member of Mahindra United. Pradeep started his career as a striker at SBT but was soon transformed into a midfielder. Pradeep played both in defence and midfield for Mahindra including in a center back role in the 2008-09 season. In Houghton’s first game, Pradeep started at left back but the English coach soon recognised the player’s ability to score from distance and moved him into a central midfield role. Pradeep famously scored the winner in the 2007 Nehru Cup final and from then until the 2011 Asian Cup, he was a regular starter. Now at 29, Pradeep maybe past his peak but newly-formed Dodsal FC would still benefit from his experience and versatility.