I M Vijayan
The first real superstar of Indian football by all means, Vijayan, wore the blue jersey for the first time in 1992 and in an 11-year career scored 40 goals in 79 appearances. It was an irony that the Kerala striker played in the pre-social media days as he was the one who could have made the keyboard warriors busy with his brilliance both on and off the field.
One of the highest paid footballers for India in late 90s, Vijayan had plied his trade with the then top-notch clubs including Kerala Police, FC Kochi and both the Kolkata giants - East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. His lightning goal in the 12th second against Bhutan in the 1999 SAFF Games still remains the third-fastest goal in international matches.
After Vijayan's retirement, Bhutia literally became the face of Indian football. To the 'Sikkimese Sniper' as he was fondly known among his peers , goes the credit of being the first Indian footballer to be signed by a European club - England's Second Division club Bury FC had roped him in 1999.
Bhutia had forged a good combination with Vijayan and when the duo played together, they formed a lethal combination upfront. A member of India's three SAFF Championship triumphs, the crowning glory came for Bhutia when he was named the Player of the Tournament in India's 2009 Nehru Cup victory.
The first poster-boy of Indian football, Chhetri has come a long way after being signed up as a teenager by Major League Soccer's (MLS) Kansas City Wizards in 2010. Chhetri's career really took off after he returned from his unsuccessful MLS stint. He was a completely different player after that as he went on lead the Blue Tigers for whom he is now the most-capped player and highest goal scorer.
His switch to Bengaluru FC was a masterstroke in his club career as he has enjoyed tremendous success with the Blues with whom he has won two I League titles, one Indian Super League crown and also helped them reach the final of the AFC Cup. Named as Asian icon by the Asian Football Confederation, Chhetri has still plenty of years at the top level and could go down in history as one of the best players India has ever produced.
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
It is very rarely that goalkeepers are spoken in the same way as those playing upfront, but such is Sandhu's brilliance in front of the goal that the 'Great Wall of India' sobriquet suits him so well. To Sandhu goes the credit for keeping Qatar strikers at bay as India held them to a goalless draw in a tough away match of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Just like his Bengaluru FC and national team-mate Chhetri, Sandhu has played abroad having had a three-year stint with Norwegian club Stabek. At a time when Indian youth is looking for a role model, they need not look beyond Sandhu. His popularity can be gauged by the simple fact that he has more than 18k followers on Instagram and close to 55.4k on Twitter.