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How India’s forward line could look like after Sunil Chhetri retires

How India’s forward line could look like after Sunil Chhetri retires

Sayan Chatterjee

Published: 9 Feb 2021 7:24 AM GMT

Sunil Chhetri has always commanded respect from his peers and fans alike and there’s a reason why he is held in such high esteem. Be it his work ethic, commitment to the cause or sheer ability with the ball at his feet, he is by far the best Indian player India has produced in the last two decades. However, this season of the Indian Super League (ISL) has shown us that it is probably time to start preparing for life without him. Although still supremely fit, it would be harsh to expect the 36-year-old to keep performing at the level that he has for many years now. Which brings us to the question, how can the Indian national team replace his natural ability and more importantly, goals?

To be completely fair, India doesn’t have a like-for-like replacement at the moment who can play with his back to goal, as a proper number 9 as well as on the wings if needed. Instead, what we have is a number of youngsters who are all very talented but need to work on certain areas in their game. Three names come to mind immediately, ATK Mohun Bagan’s Manvir Singh, Hyderabad FC’s Liston Colaco and FC Goa’s Ishan Pandita.

After Roy Krishna, Manvir has had the most impact in the final third for an ATK Mohun Bagan side that sometimes looks devoid of ideas in that area of the pitch. The 25-year-old has four goals and three assists in 15 appearances so far and he seems to be only getting better with each game. The most impressive thing about him is that he has developed his weaker left foot to the extent that he is now confident of taking shots at goal from difficult angles, something that we saw in abundance in the last game against Odisha FC. He has pace, trickery and the understanding of where to be in order to be decisive. Probably the only area where he does need a bit of work is his passing under pressure and in tight spaces.


As far as Liston is concerned, two brilliantly taken goals and three equally beautiful assists prove beyond doubt that he is a special talent. The way that he glides past defenders and makes dribbling people twice his size seem like a cakewalk, it isn’t going to be long before the big boys in the ISL come for him. For now though, Hyderabad is the perfect place for him where he can grow and further develop alongside other such talented youngsters under Manolo Marquez’s guidance. One also feels that he needs to develop a bit more physically to survive the intensity of top level football.

While the first two have been on the money this season right from the get-go, for Ishan, it has been a waiting game. The 22-year-old super sub has played just 21 minutes in the season so far but has three goals to show for it. His finishing is on-point and he has an eye for goal that only good strikers have. However, he needs more minutes to show what he is all about and maybe in time, can become THE well-rounded number 9 that India needs.


The best part about these three though, is that all of them can play together. Ishan down the middle with Manvir on the right and Liston on the left seems like an ominous strikeforce on paper. Add to that a Brandon Fernandes in the hole behind the striker and it gets even better. But for that to translate into something tangible, the youngsters have to work their socks off for the next few years and ensure that they build on their performances in this ISL season.

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