Before 2014, Sandesh Jhingan was a relatively unknown name in Indian football. However, in a few short and successful years in the Indian Super League (ISL), Jhingan would not only become a key part of the Indian defense but also go on to captain the side on several occasions.
Over the years, the 'ISL emerging player' award at the end of matches has motivated many youngsters to give their best in the tournament. In recent times, there has been an added emphasis on the development of younger players, especially those below the age of 23.
Some of these players have gone on to become integral parts of their respective clubs in the process. Having said that, let's take a look at a few players below the age of 23 who could go on to make a mark this season.
1) Rahul KP
20-year-old Rahul KP recently signed a contract extension with Kerala Blasters keeping him at the club till the end of the 2024 season. The youngster was a prominent part of the Indian U-17 side that played in the U-17 World Cup and has been on the radar of several ISL clubs since then.
In spite of the Kerala-based club not having the best of ISL seasons, Rahul managed to break into the side and was quite effective when deployed on the right wing.
He made eight appearances in the league and scored one goal against Hyderabad FC. The youngster is certainly a player Igor Stimac will have his eye on this season as he looks to bolster the attacking options of the Indian national team.
2) Suresh Wangjam
Although Bengaluru FC made it to the semifinal of the ISL last season, there were holes in certain parts of their game which saw their level drop off.
However, amid the adversity and non-ideal circumstances, Suresh Singh Wangjam was given a run in the side at central midfield alongside the likes of Dimas Delgado and Erik Paartalu.
Wangjam was an important force in midfield for the Blues last season making a few solid performances.
Along with Rahul KP, he was one of the few to be part of the U-17 side that played the FIFA World Cup in 2017. Needless to say, he will be expected to churn out impressive performances this season as the Blues look to better their finish from the last ISL campaign.
3) Anirudh Thapa
When lists are compiled with youngsters in Indian football, it is very difficult to leave out Anirudh Thapa. In fact, it wouldn't be appropriate to state that Thapa is an upcoming player since he has already cemented his place in midfield for both Chennaiyin FC and the Indian national team as well.
At 22, Thapa boasts of serious potential and has been gifted with phenomenal ability. He has been an important part of the Chennaiyin setup and has virtually started every game since 2017.
In the context of the upcoming ISL season, the youngster will be expected to come good once again as the Chennai-based club look to maintain their consistency in the competition.
4) Ishan Pandita
22-year-old Ishan Pandita is perhaps the most talked about player in the context of Indian football. Having played for Espanyol and Lorca FC, Pandita has now signed for FC Goa.
In any of their previous ISL seasons, with the likes of Hugo Boumous and Coro in the side, Pandita might have not even been considered for a place in the team.
However, with Juan Ferrando opting to give youth a chance in the upcoming season, it is expected that the youngster will play a major role. With FC Goa looking to retain the ISL league winner's shield, the likes of Ishan Pandita and Phrangki Buam will be asked to step up to the plate.
5) Mohammad Nawaz
Having made his debut in 2018 against NorthEast United FC, 20-year-old Mohammad Nawaz has been touted as the future of Indian football. In spite of being left out of the 2017 U-17 FIFA World Cup squad, Nawaz has become one of the finest goalkeepers in India.
Last season, Nawaz made headlines with 42 saves in the 20 games that he played. He managed five clean sheets and was behind only Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (11) and Arindam Bhattacharya (9). A lot will be expected of the youngster as the new ISL season looms.