India footballer Sandesh Jhinghan, who turned 28 on Wednesday, won the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Men's Player of the Year award.

The ATK Mohun Bagan defensive mainstay expressed his happiness, saying there couldn't be a better way to mark the special occasion.

“It was the best birthday gift I could imagine. I am really happy,” he said, “... Happier for my parents, brothers and partner… what else can one ask for?”

Jhinghan donned the national colours for the first time in 2015 and has made 40 international appearances since, including a crucial draw against Qatar in 2019.

He had also won the AIFF Emerging Player Award in 2014 as well as the Arjuna Award last year.

In the Indian Super League (ISL), he played six season with Kerala Blasters, which retired his jersey after he left the club. Jhingan then moved on to feature for Kolkata giant ATK Mohun Bagan in 2020.

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Jhingan, who has often worn the captain's armband in the absence of Sunil Chhetri on the pitch, is currently also a board member of the Football Players' Association of India (FPAI), which he believes can play a monumental role to ensure protection of player rights.

“We are trying to do something big with FPAI,” he told Sportstar .  

“If you look at any nation in Europe, any successful country, they have a very strong Players’ Association, that’s what we are trying to do as well.”

“The agenda for this association would be to ensure the players are more protected, have more knowledge, in terms of injury, in terms of what they’re going to do after they are done playing,” he added.

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Speaking about the national team, which has qualified for the third round of AFC World Cup Qualifications after a 1-1 draw with Afghanistan, Jhingan said, “We could’ve done better.”

He, however, assured the Indian Tigers will be ready for the upcoming rounds.

"There is lot of passion, hunger, determination, desire and enthusiasm going into the Asian Cup qualifiers. We have the talent and mentality to get into the Asia Cup and make our country proud."   

Suresh Singh Wangjam from Manipur won the AIFF Men’s Emerging Footballer of the Year.