India’s FIFA Worldcup U17 Stars
Where are they now? – Midfielders

Author: Mishal Thanveer

The 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup that India hosted and the preparations associated with that tournament have been instrumental in unearthing some of the best prospects that Indian Football has seen in a long time.

In this 4-part article, we take a look at how the players from the U17 World Cup squad and others from the 2000-01 age category performed last season and make a position-wise comparison of the players using a bit of stats and data.

After having a look at the goalkeepers in part 1 and the defenders in part 2, we will now be looking at the midfielders- the one area where the youngsters from the U17 World Cup team have impressed the most.

Central/ Defensive Midfielders

Amarjit Singh Kiyam, the captain of the team in 2017 has quickly matured into one of India’s most promising talents and became the first player born after 2000 to play for the Indian national senior team. Although he missed the start of the ISL season for Jamshedpur FC due to the arm injury he suffered while in the National Camp, Amarjit came back to make 8 appearances and clocked 544 minutes of playing time.

Jamshedpur’s form took a nasty hit in the later stages of the tournament but Amarjit’s aggressive presence proved to be a key cog in Antonio Iriondos midfield – either in a double pivot or in a midfield 3.

Defensively, Amarjit averaged 8.13 successful challenges per 90, 7.05 tackles per 90, and 5.98 ball recoveries per 90. At the same time, he also tried to ensure he contributed to the buildup with 44.64 passes per 90 at an accuracy of 84% and also provided 1.38 key passes per 90. With Owen Coyle set to take charge of Jamshedpur next season and keeping in mind how midfield players like Anirudh Thapa and Edwin Vanspaul benefitted from the Englishman, Amarjit can be expected to have an even better season next year.

Suresh Singh Wangjam, who was the regular captain of the U-17 side during the tenure of Nicolai Adam, also had a breakthrough season for Bengaluru FC. After starting most of the games on the bench in the initial matches, Suresh slowly made his way into the starting lineup. Carles Cuadrat often opted for a 4-3-3 formation and Suresh’s ability to keep things simple, perfectly complimented the physicality of Paartalu and the creativity of Dimas in the middle. 

With the AFC Cup Qualification also in the mix, Suresh made a total of 14 appearances for the Blues. While he did not do anything extraordinary, a passing accuracy of 85% and 12.27 defensive actions per 90, makes it evident that he did a fine job executing the task he was assigned to do.

Jeakson Singh became one of the poster boys of the U-17 World Cup after he became the first Indian to score in a FIFA World Cup tournament with his towering header against Colombia. He was soon signed by the Kerala Blasters and after a loan spell with the Arrows and a stint in the 2nd Division with the KBFC reserves, the Manipuri lad played a prominent role for the Blasters this season in the ISL. Blasters often opted for building up from the back and this was where Jeakson played a major role. With the likes of Mario Arques missing a major chunk of the tournament with an injury, Jeakson was tasked with the duty of dropping deep and initiating buildups from the back.

With 42.35 passes per 90 with a remarkable passing accuracy of 90%, Jeakson executed the task brilliantly. The fact that he just had 2.69 lost balls per 90 (for comparison, Rowlin Borges had 4.59 & Lenny Rodrigues had 3.42) is a proof of how comfortable he was on the ball. It is likely that Jeakson will easily be Kibu Vicuna’s preferred choice for Blasters this year in the #6 role.

Lalengmawia played just 13 minutes at the U-17 World Cup, but a fruitful 2018/19 season with the Indian Arrows paved the way for a move to Northeast United in the ISL. After 7 games on the bench for the Highlanders, Mawia started his first game in the ISL in the 2-0 loss to BFC. Ever since then, he has become a mainstay in a defensive midfield role for the side and impressed one and all with his performances; with Robert Jarni counting him among the top 3 midfielders in India. The highlight of Mawia’s game was his ability to receive passes under pressure and to progress the ball with a dribble or pass.

Mawia made 43.37 passes per 90 at a success rate of 89% in a Northeast side that was among the lowest in the tournament for possession. He also attempted 2.05 dribbles per 90 at a success rate of 77.27%. His work-rate in defense was also impressive and was key to breaking up opposition play with 5.03 interceptions per 90 and 4.75 tackles per 90. Northeast United have always had a topsy-turvy time in the ISL and with a new coach in Gerard Nus joining the team, Mawia will be key to ensuring that the Highlanders have a good season next time.

Apart from these 4, the defensive midfielder that caught everyone’s attention this season was Md.Sahil of Mohun Bagan. Sahil started off his career as a Centre-back but Kibu Vicuna utilised him as the more defensive-minded midfielder in a double pivot. Kibu emphasised on building up from the back and with the fullbacks often pushing up higher, it was often Sahil who was tasked to drop down and link up with the centrebacks to receive and progress the ball.

With a passing accuracy of 86%, Sahil took to this role very impressively and was vital to Bagan’s title-winning season. While positioning and spatial awareness are his key strengths, he was also impressive with his counter-pressing and defensive work. He won 6.62 1v1 challenges per 90, made 4.06 interceptions per 90, and attempted 6.06 tackles per 90. He has got a deserved move to the ISL with the ATK Mohun Bagan team tying him down to a long-term deal. It is worth waiting to see how he copes in the ISL, and if Antonio Habas continues his 3-5-2 system from the last term, it is to be seen where he will fit in.

Attacking Midfielders

Both the attacking midfielders from the World Cup team- Abhijit Sarkar and Md. Shahjahan-  did not feature much for their respective sides this season. Sarkar, who was India’s preferred attacking midfielder in the first two games at the U-17 World Cup, had a disappointing season on loan at East Bengal. The youngster from Bengal made only 1 start in addition to 5 cameo appearances from the bench and failed to create any significant impact. He has since returned to his parent club Chennaiyin FC. Shahjahan was very prolific back in his Minerva Punjab days and by those standards, had an even more disappointing season having been limited to just 2 appearances for Jamshedpur FC Reserves in the 2nd division I-League. Both Shahjahan and Sarkar would hope things change in their favour this season.

With the onus of creativity in all the teams resting mostly on the foreign players, there were not many other attacking midfielders especially from the 2000-01 born categories that impressed. However, one player worth mentioning is Ayush Adhikari who had a breakthrough season at Indian Arrows on loan from Kerala Blasters. The Delhi lad mostly operated from a deeper central midfield role for the Arrows but given his on-the-ball quality and the vision to pick out attacking passes in the final 3rd, he can easily develop into a fine attacking midfielder in the future. Ayush averaged 1.67 key passes per 90 while managing a passing accuracy of 75%. He also attempted 3.50 dribbles per 90 at a success rate of 54.55% and also had a 50% shot accuracy, all signs of a clinical player in the making. Blasters have now assembled some of the best young Indian attacking midfielders in Sahal, Jeakson, Ayush and Givson and it will be interesting to see how Kibu Vicuna incorporates all of them into the squad for the upcoming season.

Other Performers

Although we have only been discussing players from the 2000-01 batches in this article, it would be unfair not to mention 2 boys from the 2002 batch- Ricky John Shabong and Givson Singh Moirangthem– as both of them have been instrumental for the Indian Arrows despite their young age. Ricky, who made the defensive midfield role his own, missed just 8 minutes of the I-League campaign. Although physically not the strongest, the lad from Meghalaya showed how good he was at breaking up opposition attacks with 6.99 ball recoveries per 90, 7.24 interceptions per 90, and 2.20 successful tackles per 90. He was rumored to join East Bengal for the next season but it seems his move has now been put on hold.

Givson meanwhile operated in the #10 role and clocked 1340 minutes of game-time, impressing everyone with his ability to often thread brilliant through balls and his set-piece delivery. Arrows really struggled to find goals and the fact that Givson was directly involved in 57.14% of the goals they scored, is a testament to how crucial he was for the side from an attacking perspective. Givson averaged 1.78 key passes per 90, 2.22 dribbles per 90 at a success rate of 62.86%, and had a passing accuracy of 77% in spite of playing in the #10 role. Kerala Blasters have already officially announced Givson’s signing for the next season but with the recent arrival of Facundo Pereyra adding to the abundance of options already available, it is to be seen how much playing time he can muster.

Another player who made 15 appearances in the I-League was Chanso Horam of Neroca FC. Originally an attacking midfielder, Horam was utilized in multiple positions and although he started the season well, he lost his place in the starting XI towards the later stages. However, he did enough to prove his versatility and he has got himself a move to Mumbai City FC.

Thoiba Singh Moirangthem of Minerva Punjab FC also made 8 appearances for Yan Law’s side with the former India U-16 centre-back utilized more as a ball-carrying defensive midfielder. He also became the youngest goalscorer in the AFC Cup with his well taken goal against Manang Marshyangdi and has since joined Odisha FC for the upcoming season.

That concludes part-3 of this series and do check back with us for the final part as we look at how some of the prodigious young talents in the country have progressed over the past 3 years.

Pic Credits – ISL website,  AIFF , Mohun Bagan

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