Will Sunil Chhetri be dethroned? GOAL takes a look at the possible contenders for the gong….
With the domestic season as good as done due to the coronavirus outbreak, Goal takes a look at those players who could possibly take home the Player of the Year award.
The right-back had to sacrifice his natural position to meet the demands of his coach Antonio Habas. He was deployed as a right sided centre-back in a three-man defence, but the Indian international was hardly at unease in his new role. In the absence of Agustin Iniguez towards the business end of the campaign, he had the responsibility to organise and lead from the back – a job which he carried out with aplomb.
ATK boast of having the second-best defensive record in the league and a lot of credit goes to the 26-year-old defender. He was not afraid to go into tackles (71) when necessary and yet received only three cautions, which highlights his discipline on the pitch.
His involvement in set-pieces was noteworthy and even managed to score the opener against FC Goa at home. He put in solid performances in the playoffs against Bengaluru FC and the final as well where he made a critical goalline clearance. Kotal is certainly one of the prime contenders for the gong.
The Bengaluru FC skipper has been one of the most consistent performers over the last couple of years and this edition has been no exception. Although he has remained short of living up to the high standards that he has set for himself, he did net nine times in 17 matches.
In a season where the Blues have struggled to score, Chhetri has been their only livewire in attack. Against FC Goa at home, he scored both the goals and his heroics was the difference between the two sides.
He has scored against all teams except one in this season, the ISL champions – ATK. In all the three appearances against the Kolkata-based side, he drew blanks. He came close to scoring in the return leg of the semi-finals but just could not get his goal. Nevertheless, his impact has been immense and remains a strong contender for the top award.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
The shot-stopper has been in sublime form throughout this season. A lot of credit goes to him, for India’s historic result against Qatar in Doha in the World Cup Qualifiers 2022. He stood tall and pulled off numerous saves to deny the Asian champions the three points in their own backyard.
He carried his good run of form in the domestic season as well for his club Bengaluru FC in the ISL. With the least number of goals (14) conceded and 11 clean sheets to his name, he was undoubtedly the best performer in the league amongst those who stood under the sticks.
In the home fixture against Hyderabad, Gurpreet denied Marko Stankovic from the spot which helped Bengaluru pick up the three points as they went on to edge the debutantes 1-0. He has a staggering 77.77 save per cent, which is one of the best in the league.
Like his national team compatriot Gurpreet Singh, the Goan was equally impressive in national colours for Igor Stimac. He provided three assists in five matches of the World Cup Qualifiers 2022. His deliveries from the set-pieces have beenon point and it was from his inch-perfect flag-kick that Adil Khan scored the equalizer in the dying minutes against Bangaladesh to rescue a point for the Blue Tigers.
For FC Goa, he has been equally instrumental. He has scored twice and has notched up seven assists for the Gaurs in his 17 appearances. He has made more than two key passes in each match which further substantiates his influence in the attacking third.
His impeccable ball control has allowed him to provide stability and dictate the tempo of a match in Goa’s midfield. He has seven assists in the season – the Indian with the most assists.
The Chennaiyin FC midfielder has already been nominated in the Emerging Player Category by the All India Football Federation and because of his assuring performances at the centre of the park, he features in this list as well.
Under the guidance of Owen Coyle, Chennaiyin turned around their fortunes and Thapa was the linchpin in midfield. In the first leg of the playoffs against FC Goa, he was the difference-maker with an assist and a goal.
The 22-year-old has been maturing in leaps and bounds over the past couple of years. The time is ripe to reward him for his upward surge.
The 26-year-old wing-back has been sensational for ATK this season. He made a comeback from a career-threatening injury but showed no signs of rustiness. Coach Habas trusted his abilities and the defender exceeded expectations with his contributions from the right flank.
He has been a workhorse for the reigning champions and made his presence felt both in defence and attack. He bloomed further in the business end of the season and upped his game when ATK needed the most, in the return leg against Bengaluru FC in the semi-finals. With two assists, he was one of the prime architects who engineered ATK’s valiant comeback in front of the home fans.
Moreover, he never shied away from fulfilling his defensive duties as he would be seen tracking back swiftly from an advanced position to stop an opposition counter-attack. His partnership and communication with Kotal grew as the season progressed which further helped ATK to remain tight at the back.
Chennaiyin FC’s speedy winger Lallianzuala Chhangte had a breakthrough season this time around. After struggling to make an impact in the final third in the initial set of matches this season, the 22-year-old found his feet under Owen Coyle.
He went on to score seven goals for the South Indian side as they marched to the final where they lost out to ATK. In fact, his tally makes him the Indian player with the most goals from open play this season.
He was an everpresent outlet on the left wing for Coyle’s side, given his pace and dribbling ability. But he also contributed vital goals for the side and scored in both legs of the play-offs against FC Goa, becoming the first Indian player to do so.
Who do you think will win the AIFF Player of the Season?