During an unusually breezy evening in Navi Mumbai, a group of around 25 teenagers gathered at a turf inside the Reliance Corporate Park, along with their coach, Kaizad Ambapardiwalla. What started as a playful session suddenly turned professional when the coach blew his whistle, and slowly descended into organised chaos that best describes the training drills by Bengaluru FC’s development team.
This was their final session ahead of their Premier League Next Gen Cup match on Thursday, and observing from the sidelines was Thoi Singh, who suffered a back strain during BFC’s 0-3 defeat against West Ham United, a couple of days earlier.
“I’m not thinking a lot about the injury. It’s just that I won’t be able to play our final match of the tournament,” said the 19-year-old, as he kept himself occupied on his smartphone while cheering his teammates from the dugout.
Catch ‘em young
Thoi, who was part of the Reliance Foundation Young Champs team (RFYC), grabbed the attention of BFC scouts after he scored 50 goals in 45 appearances. He was offered a professional contract during the 2020-21 season but spent his time largely outside the main squad. “RYFC and BFC, of course, train under vastly different environments,” Thoi said.
But Thoi recently came into the limelight again after performing magnificently during the Reliance Foundation Development League (RFDL), which is the selection criteria for the Next Gen Cup. He emerged as the Golden Ball winner, scoring nine times and providing four assists.
“The exposure that I got during the RFDL will indeed help me. I’ve already trained with BFC’s senior team, and RFDL was a unique experience. I tried to stick to the basics and that bore fruit as I got the Golden Ball,” recalled Thoi.
RDFL, which started in 2022, branched out into an enormous tournament this year as 61 clubs from various parts of the country took part, out of which Sudeva Delhi FC, ATK Mohun Bagan, and RFYC were drawn into the Next Gen Cup groups alongside BFC after finishing top of their respective groups.
The primary aim of the Next Gen Cup is to improve grassroots-level football in the country, by pitting development sides against overseas clubs from countries like England and South Africa. Wolverhampton Wanderers, West Ham, Everton, and defending champion from South Africa Stellenbosch were the four foreign teams this time around.
“Premier League clubs are definitely better than us, but we are also getting to their level. I feel that the only thing that we need to do is to put in more hours in the training area and work hard, we will eventually get there. It was a great experience playing against those teams, they were technically and mentally sound, we found it a bit difficult but enjoyed going up against them,” said Thoi.
All about management
Thoi is currently pursuing a correspondence degree in Business Management to make it a bit easier to juggle between the sport that he loves and his academics. “I started my degree last year and I’m studying from home for obvious reasons. I’m able to concentrate more on football as this is easier than my 10th and 12th grades,” said the youngster from Manipur, with a chuckle.
“Thoi has been performing well this season. Yes, there were ups and downs, but he’s pulled himself back really well. He analysed matches sitting on the sidelines and we worked on training sessions, concentrating mainly on his finishing. He’s also been working with the main team and that experience has helped him as well as the team here. As far as his injury is concerned, he’s with us during the training, observing everything and that will help when he returns from this setback,” remarked Kaizad.
Bengaluru FC has developed quality players in the past such as Sivasakthi Narayanan, who was also identified through his performances in RFDL. Thoi, who recently received praise from Sunil Chhetri, will look to replicate a similar path to success.
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