Sandesh Jhingan: Indian footballers will play abroad in future

India footballer Sandesh Jhingan feels the ISL exposure will help players improve and eventually, they will sign international contracts with clubs.

Sandesh Jhingan in action for Kerala Blasters FC in the ISL.   -  SPORTZPICS/ISL

Sandesh Jhingan relishes battles. He likes it more when the challenge is tougher and stakes are higher. In 2015, after his international debut in a 2-0 win over Nepal in a FIFA World Cup qualifier, then India coach Stephen Constantine gave him a pat on the back and said ‘Well done, Sandesh.’ The 20-year-old center-back turned to him and said, “It [Nepal] wasn’t challenging enough.”

Fresh from a long injury lay-off, Jhingan is now eyeing a new challenge, which is rumoured to be abroad, after having mutually parted ways with Kerala Blasters earlier this month.

Jhingan was part of two FIFA World Cup qualifier games, against Qatar and Oman, after which a serious knee injury in October ruled him out. He underwent surgery and had to miss the entire Indian Super League (ISL) season.

“Of course, I felt bad to not be able to take part. I was very pumped up for the qualifiers. I felt this was our chance,” he spoke during an interaction on the All India Football Federation Facebook page.

“I regret how we lost the Oman game [India lost 2-1 in the last 10 minutes]. I didn’t have the best game. There will be questions why that happened. Maybe less game-time [heading into the game]. I felt we deserved three points and to keep a clean sheet.”

READ| Sahal to be next big scorer after Chhetri retires, says Bhaichung Bhutia

Jhingan, a key member of the Blue Tigers, believes the current batch of national team players can make a mark on the world stage in the years to come.

“People will remember this batch of players. The introduction of ISL, the foreign exposure and the games against China, Qatar and the Asian Cup have helped us. We see all these experienced foreign players and when we played against them our confidence level improved. From the exposure we have had, this batch realised that we are good.

“We were ready to take on Qatar in Qatar! That was the mentality, to get stuck in and get points. The ambition of this batch is immense.”

Early days with Bhaichung

Jhingan recalled his early days at his first professional club, United Sikkim FC, in 2011, which was co-owned by former India skipper Bhaichung Bhutia. Jhingan revealed that, before he had signed for United Sikkim, he had been rejected by second and third division clubs in Kolkata.

“I came back home and I felt I needed to work hard and I did. Then I finally had a chance to have a trail with USFC. To go into the ground and first thing I see is Renedy [Singh] bhai taking free-kicks and all I wanted to do was go and kiss his feet. I remember some of his memorable goals like the free-kick against Syria.

ALSO READ| AIFF decides to delay start of upcoming domestic season due to COVID-19 pandemic

“When I shook Bhaichung bhai’s hand I felt I shouldn’t wash my hand. After a one-and-a-half month trail, he said ‘let’s discuss contract’. For me, it was a dream come true to be around them.”

When asked why many Indian players don’t often move overseas, the centre-back said, “I won’t say we don’t have that dream. Every kid from an Asian country dreams of playing in major European leagues. We also have certain laws that restrict you from moving abroad. We have to be in top 70 [in FIFA rankings] to get in [work permit]. That also makes it difficult. I believe now every Indian kid now can make it due to exposure from ISL clubs. Going forward many Indians will play abroad, in the next 10-15 years. Sahal [Abdul Samad], [Anirudh] Thapa, Ashique [Kuruniyan], they will play in Europe.”

Having spent six seasons at Kerala Blasters, during which time the team reached two finals, Jhingan picked the semifinal second leg against Delhi Dynamos in 2016 as his favourite memory.

Anirudh Thapa.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

“That Delhi squad was the finest I have seen in the ISL,” he said. “There was Marcelinho, Kean Lewis had a breakout year, they had Anas [Edathodika], Marcos Tebar and Florent Malouda. In the first 15 minutes of the game, I had a gash in my feet. I knew something was wrong and felt intense pain. At half-time, I could see blood on my socks, and Delhi was dominating us. If I had shown it to the physio then they would have known I was in trouble.

“We won in penalties. We were all celebrating in the end and the feeling was unbelievable. When I opened my socks, my skin came off and there was blood everywhere but I felt it was all worth it.”

Memories with Sachin Tendulkar

Jhingan had the fortune of working with cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar, who was a co-owner at Blasters until 2018. Recounting the 2014 final loss to ATK in Mumbai, he said, "I felt bad and was taking it really hard. He came up to me and put a hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Sandesh, It took me six attempts to win the World Cup and it takes four years for a World Cup to come. This is your first time and you can’t lose your heart.’

“He even went to the dressing room and spoke to the entire team to lift them up. You feed off his positivity.”

Support Sportstar


Dear Reader,

Support our journalism — where text and pictures intermingle so seamlessly — and help us scale up your experience as the world changes around us. Your contribution is vital to our brand of uninfluenced, boots-on-the-ground reportage that’s worth your while. Clickbait sensationalism is not for us, but editorial independence is — we owe it to you.

  Dugout videos