The first season of the Indian Super League proved to be a huge success among Indian fans last year. With a TV viewership of 429 million and attendance figures which were behind just three national leagues from across the world, the ISL garnered enough attention to make the world take notice of Indian football.
This season, the stakes are much higher, with all the 8 franchises splashing extravagant amounts to try and challenge for the title. The likes of Roberto Carlos, Malouda, Simao, etc, the foreign arrivals this season, are the talk of the town. While they will have enormous pressure to deliver the goods, the Indian players will have equally important roles in their teams.
Keeping that in mind, Catch picks the eight Indian players, one from each team, to watch out for this season.
Arnab Mondal (Atletico de Kolkata)
One of the country's best players in the last few years, Arnab Mondal has been a mainstay in the Indian national team in recent years. The Kolkata-born defender first made his name with former Kolkata-based I-League outfit United SC, before East Bengal came calling in the summer of 2012.
As a centre-back, Arnab Mondal is neither the strongest nor one of the most physically imposing defenders around. However, what makes him so good is his brilliant reading of the game. In the last three years, he has arguably been the most consistent performer for the Indian national team, and at East Bengal, he continues to be one of the most key figures in the team.
Dhanpal Ganesh (Chennaiyin FC)
A product of the Pune FC academy, Dhanpal Ganesh signed a professional contract with the club in 2011, becoming the first academy player to be promoted to the first team. In 2012, Ganesh was loaned out to AIFF's developmental team Pailan Arrows. After a successful loan spell, Ganesh went on to establish himself as a key member of the Pune FC team.
While Ganesh has flourished in the holding midfield role recently, he also possesses a highly impressive passing range in his repertoire. His brilliant performances with Pune recently saw him earn a place in the Indian national team. Hailed as one of the future stars of the national team, he will have a key role to play with Chennaiyin in ISL this season.
Eugeneson Lyngdoh (FC Pune City)
FC Pune City pulled off a coup when the club signed Jackichand Singh and Eugeneson Lyngdoh, arguably two of the best Indian players in the last I-League season, in the player auctions earlier this year. While Jackichand's pace and creativity saw him win the player of the year award in the I-League, Eugeneson's match-winning performances took Bengaluru FC to the brink of a second consecutive I-League title.
A creative central midfielder, Eugeneson started his career with his family-owned Rangdajied United Football Club, before moving to Shillong Lajong in 2012. In 2013, he returned to Rangdajied after the club's promotion to the I-League, and a year later, signed for Bengaluru FC. Arguably the club's best player last season, Eugeneson has now established his place in the national team too, only months after making his international debut.
Pronay Halder (FC Goa)
Romeo Fernandes is the name on everyone's lips as FC Goa prepare to challenge for the ISL title this season. However, the Dempo FC youth product has played less than half an hour of competitive football in the last 9 months, which is why he doesn't make this list. On the other hand, Pronay Halder has enjoyed an outstanding run of form with his club, making him one of the most in-form Indian players coming into this season.
A defensive midfielder who graduated from the Tata Football Academy, Halder first came into prominence while playing for the Pailan Arrows team. In 2013, he signed for Goan giants Dempo SC. Last season, the club suffered from a wretched run of form, which culminated in relegation on the last day of the season. Yet, Halder emerged as one of the best midfielders in the I-League, which earned him two national team caps this year.
Sandesh Jhingan (Kerala Blasters)
One of the most exciting prospects to emerge from the domestic game in recent years, Sandesh Jhingan signed for United Sikkim late in 2011, going on to help the club earn promotion to the I-League a few months later. He subsequently went on to feature regularly in the team's league campaign next season.
In 2013, Jhingan signed for IMG-Reliance, but with the postponement of the first season of ISL, he looked set to miss out on competitive action for some time. Talks with Rangdajied United broke down, but Mumbai FC signed him up midway through the season. He subsequently helped the club avoid relegation, and had a stellar ISL season with Kerala Blasters a few months later.
Seityasen Singh (NorthEast United)
Shillong-based Royal Wahingdoh made the country stand up and take notice last season when they made an unprecedented third place finish in their debut I-League campaign. One of the key figures behind Wahingdoh's stellar season was Seityasen Singh, who along with Jackichand Singh, terrorised opposing defences from both the wings.
A skillful left-footed winger, Seityasen's biggest weapon is his ability to carve open defences by drifting in from the right flank. Apart from creating chances, he also scores quite a few goals. Last season, he netted six times for his team to help Wahingdoh launch an unexpected title challenge. Earlier this year, he made his debut for the national team in the country's World Cup quaifier against Oman.
Sunil Chhetri (Mumbai City)
India's highest ever goalscorer in international games, Sunil Chhetri has been Indian football's poster boy for quite some time now. The Delhi-born forward has been a mainstay in the national team for nearly a decade, and has arguably been the best player in the team throughout the period.
After missing out on the inaugural Indian Super League season due to his contractual obligations with Bengaluru FC, Sunil Chhetri is now one of the main attractions in the tournament's second season. The Ranbir Kapoor co-owned Mumbai City franchise paid a sum of Rs 1.2 crore to acquire the services of Chhetri, and the diminutive forward will hope to repay the franchise's faith in him by replicating his international form in the tournament.
Zodingliana Ralte (Delhi Dynamos)
A Shillong Lajong youth product, Zodingliana Ralte has been involved with the club's first team for two seasons. In 2014, the young winger was part of the NorthEast United team that finished bottom of the table in the league phase of the first Indian Super League season. Despite the team's poor showing, Ralte stood out with some commendable performances.
After returning to Lajong from his loan spell, the Mizoram-born footballer went on to play a prominent part in the club's I-League campaign, and was key to Lajong avoiding the drop at the end of the season. At just 20 years of age, Zodingliana Ralte has emerged as one of the most promising talents in the Indian game. This season, the youngster could play an important part in Delhi Dynamos' quest for a place in the semi-finals.