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ISL 2018-19: Top five debutants to watch out for

Tim Cahill is the biggest name in the ISL this season.
Tim Cahill is the biggest name in the ISL this season.

"Where are the marquee signings?" I can hear you yell. "Where are the Berbatovs and the Forlans and the Del Pieros?"

Hopefully the answer to all that is: "Consigned to history."

The ISL seems to have moved away from the idea that signing a big, big, name -- irrespective of current form or state of physical fitness -- guarantees success and is moving towards a more holistic, 'let's buy people that our sides actually need' philosophy that most sensible footballing entities ought to follow. As Kerala Blasters' manager David James told us, "We wanted players who are excited about playing football for the club. It wasn't about signing big players with big money but signing the right players for the right price."

This has led to some interesting signings this transfer window, and we here at ESPN have picked out five of the best -- the (new) names you really need to watch out for this season.

Tim Cahill

Team: Jamshedpur FC

Age: 38

Position: Forward

The biggest name in the ISL this season. The only 'marquee' signing of the window by any team. Thirty-eight years old. Cahill's arrival may have you going, "Wait a minute -- here's another from the 'let's-go-to-India-and-make-some-money-while-sipping-mojitos' brigade," but scratch under the surface and you will see the difference. Cahill has been active, and scoring, at a relatively high level for the past couple of years with Melbourne City and played an instrumental role in Australia making it to the World Cup this summer.

He's not done playing just yet, and he's certainly not done scoring goals.

He remains a proper threat in the box and even if used only as an impact substitute, Cahill's nose for goal will be a major boost for a team that scraped together just 16 goals last season. He may not have the legs of his prime Everton years -- but the trademark leap remains formidable and his technique has only become better with age.

Those corner flags at the JRD Tata Sports Complex better get ready for one hell of a battering.

The fast and young Nikhil Poojari (left) fits the template of the new 'ideal ISL signing' to the T.
The fast and young Nikhil Poojari (left) fits the template of the new 'ideal ISL signing' to the T.

Nikhil Poojari

Team: FC Pune City

Age: 23

Position: Winger

Fast? Young? Likely to be a fixture in the Indian team for the forseeable future? Check, check and check. Poojari fits the template of the new 'ideal ISL signing' to the T. He impressed in his debut season for East Bengal in the I-League and for the young India team Stephen Constantine picked for the SAFF Cup last month -- his willingness to take on the man in front of him especially pleasing -- and will add quality to an already menacing Pune attack.

He missed the whole of last season with an ACL tear, but Pune's faith in him stands as testament to his potential. Promisingly for them, he showed good chemistry with fellow winger Ashique Kuruniyan in the SAFF Cup -- and the way the two young Indians combine may well hold the key to the Maharashtrians making the playoffs again.

Chencho Gyeltshen (centre) was last season's I-League forward of the year.
Chencho Gyeltshen (centre) was last season's I-League forward of the year.

Chencho Gyeltshen

Team: Bengaluru FC

Age: 23

Position: Wide forward

The Ronaldo of Bhutan. CG7. The Bhutanese Bullet. Okay, that last moniker was made up just now, but you see where I am going with this -- Gyeltshen is the kind of player that gets fans giddy and has writers falling over themselves to think up nicknames.

Fast, aggressive, almost insultingly direct, Gyeltshen -- at first glance -- stands as the antithesis of the possession-based philosophy of BFC, but manager Carles Cuadrat is a big fan of what last season's I-League forward of the year brings to the table: "Chencho is an explosive player, he has good speed, good velocity, good shooting. We saw what he can bring to us, the speed; when teams play against us in a very defensive way, very close together, he is a player who can break [them down]."

He is, arguably, the most exciting signing of the transfer window.

Dheeraj Singh, 18, is almost certainly going to be Kerala Blasters' first-choice keeper ahead of more experienced candidates.
Dheeraj Singh, 18, is almost certainly going to be Kerala Blasters' first-choice keeper ahead of more experienced candidates.

Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem

Team: Kerala Blasters

Age: 18

Position: Goalkeeper

The most recognizable name from India's historic U-17 World Cup campaign last year, Dheeraj spent last season split between playing for the Indian Arrows in the I-League and undergoing trials at Motherwell in the Scottish Premier League. Work permit issues, reportedly, kept him from signing a proffered contract with the impressed Scots, but a stint in the ISL under the expertise of David James will do him plenty of good.

James is happy with the youngster's showing in training and during a tough pre-season, and Dheeraj is almost certainly going to be the Blasters' first-choice keeper ahead of more experienced candidates.

The young man will make mistakes over the course of the long season but if James keeps his confidence in him, Kerala will have a winner on their hands.

Bartholomew Ogbeche (right) was scouted and signed by Paris Saint-Germain when he was just 15.
Bartholomew Ogbeche (right) was scouted and signed by Paris Saint-Germain when he was just 15.

Bartholomew Ogbeche

Team: NorthEast United

Age: 33

Position: Centre forward

He may be just 5'10", but Ogbeche has a bit of the Tim Cahill about him. He's gutsy, belligerent -- and has an immense leap that makes him a nightmare to defend against in the air.

A wunderkind scouted and signed by Paris Saint-Germain when he was just 15, the Nigerian has had a journeyman career that has taken him from France (PSG, Metz, Bastia) to the UAE (Al Jazira), Spain (Alaves, Real Valladolid, Cadiz, Xerez) to Greece (Kavala), England (Middleborough) to the Netherlands (Cambuur, Willem II), and he has scored wherever he has gone. As the then Boro manager, Tony Mowbray, proclaimed at the time of his signing: "He knows where the back of the net is."

He comes into the ISL on the back of a good season with Willem II, bagging 13 goals in all competitions -- 10 of those goals coming in 20 Eredivisie games. To put that into perspective, NorthEast United scored just 12 goals (in 18) last season.

They need the goals -- and Ogbeche might just be the man to provide them.

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