KOCHI: India are all set to play three 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifiers in June with head coach Igor Stimac and his 28-member squad having already begun their preparations in Qatar.
While talismanic skipper Sunil Chhetri is back in the squad and will be leading the team on the pitch once again after recovering from Covid-19 (he was absent for the friendlies in March), the exclusion of Kerala Blasters midfielder Jeakson Singh has caused quite a surprise.
There is a lot of competition for places in the midfield, but what works in the central midfielder’s favour is his versatility as he can also play as a centre-back.
The former India U-17 World Cup star also had an impressive season in the Indian Super League (ISL) as he enjoyed a breakout campaign and was voted by fans into the 2020-21 Emerging Team of the Season. In 16 appearances, he managed to make 48 tackles, 26 interceptions, 21 clearances and 22 blocks for Blasters.
Jeakson drew praise for his composure on the ball, ability to break up play, slot in as a centre-back when needed and even pop up with the odd goal.
The 19-year-old didn't hide his desire to break into the senior team and is hoping to catch the eye of Stimac.
"At the end of the day, it is the decision of the coach not to pick me. I will try to improve myself. That's what I can do. And obviously, I will try my best to get a call-up to the national team soon," said Jeakson, who is at his home in Manipur at the moment.
In fact, Jeakson is not the only young player who had an impressive ISL campaign as his ex- India U-17 teammate and current Blasters striker Rahul KP also attracted attention with his performances up front.
While Sahal Abdul Samad is the only Blasters player who has made it to the Indian squad, Jeakson felt the likes of Rahul and another U-17 World Cup hero Sanjeev Stalin, who recently signed for the club, can play a crucial part for the national team in the future.
The Blasters have an exciting group of young Indian players with the likes of Jeakson, Rahul and Sanjeev playing together from their 2017 U-17 FIFA World Cup days. He feels they could make an impact in the years to come.
"Obviously Rahul has all the qualities to play as a striker or a winger. It will depend on how he approaches his game. He has all the qualities to do well in the years to come. And regarding Sanjeev, it is really exciting that we will be playing together," he said.
At the moment, the 19-year-old has shifted his focus to the upcoming season but admitted that the current situation brought about by Covid-19 has affected preparations.
"There is very little training we can do right now. If it was a regular season, the younger players would have already started individual training at our base but we are restricted to our homes," he said.