With the changes in foreign player rules set to be enforced, signing a centre-back like Jhingan will be a massive boost for any club...
One of the hottest developments of the off-season in Indian football has been the news of Sandesh Jhingan's exit from Kerala Blasters. The central defender had been an integral part of the Indian Super League (ISL) side ever since their inception and had become their poster boy of sorts.
As such, his exit was bound to surprise many in the Indian football fraternity. While not many clubs in India would have thought about recruiting Jhingan when the season finished back in March, it is very much a possibility now.
And they would be foolish not to be thinking about it in the current situation. The Punjab-born defender has not made his plans clear about the future. There are indications that Jhingan was holding out for a foreign trial but nothing has materialised till now amid the Coronavirus pandemic. The seasons are incomplete in most foreign nations. In this scenario, it makes perfect sense for ISL clubs to make a beeline for Jhingan.
The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has made it clear that it intends to implement the '3+1' foreigner rule in the I-League and the ISL. While it comes into force in the I-League from the upcoming season, ISL has been a given an exemption for one season.
From 2021-22 season, the ISL is also expected to bring down the maximum number of foreigners allowed on the field. In fact, during a recent meeting of the AIFF Executive Committee, President Praful Patel communicated the same to ISL representatives who agreed in principle to the suggestion.
The rule, implemented to ensure opportunities to more Indian players, puts a premium on the cream among Indian players. And Jhingan certainly belongs in that group.
Yes, the 26-year-old missed the entirety of the 2019-20 season with a serious Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) injury. But after a carefully-planned period of rehabilitation, he seems hungry for action. Despite missing a season, Jhingan is still one of the best defenders in the country.
Realistically, roping him in this season will be a great investment for any club as opposed to next season when the fee and wage he commands could be higher.
More importantly, Jhingan effectively secures a central defensive slot. We have seen that most coaches prefer to operate with two foreign central defenders in the previous seasons and fit in Indian full-backs around them. Bengaluru FC had Albert Serran and Juanan, Chennaiyin FC had Lucian Goian and Eli Sabia, FC Goa had Carlos Pena and Mourtada Fall while Odisha FC used to play with Carlos Delgado and Diawandou Diagne at the back as and when they needed it.
Only club with just one foreign centre-back in their squad was Mumbai City FC who had Mato Grgic.
Another common theme that has been observed is that key positions in central midfield and attack are always made up of foreigners in most teams. With the current restrictions allowing for five overseas players, three of them are usually deployed in midfield and attack.
When the four foreigner rule kicks in, as expected in 2021-22, the presence of a strong Indian central defender gives team freedom to ensure three foreign players carry the midfield and the attack. Fielding two overseas centre-backs might not be an ideal situation, with just two left to be fielded up front.
This is true for any good Indian defender. But the fact is that Jhingan has parted ways with Kerala Blasters and stands out like a beacon in the market.
And this is why Jhingan should be at the top of the shopping wishlist this season for any club who are thinking ahead of the 2020-21 season.