In football, nothing is quite as liberating as watching a lung-busting run by a young, exciting talent. Udanta Singh’s irrepressible blend of pace and power is something that routinely draws collective gasps from the Bengaluru FC (BFC) faithful. While the 23-year-old has been off colour this season, it has been the turn of a certain 19-year-old to display a similar youthful energy — Suresh Singh Wangjam.
Be it on the flanks going past defenders or outrunning the opposition to stop a fast break, Suresh has been everywhere. So much so that the teenager from Manipur, who played for India in the landmark FIFA U-17 World Cup at home in 2017, has started five of BFC’s last six ISL matches including the victorious semifinal first leg versus ATK.
However, last June, almost no one, except his father, seemed thrilled by the prospect of Suresh joining the reigning ISL champion from Indian Arrows. “It is easy now to say my father was right, but it was a very difficult decision,” says Suresh. “It was going to be my first professional club and the coaches and senior players I spoke to said BFC was a big club and tough to break into.”
“But my father said, ‘why do you want to continue at a place where there is no challenge [Indian Arrows]? At BFC you will learn from Sunil [Chhetri], Gurpreet [Sandhu], [Harmanjot] Khabra and others. Even if you don’t make it in the first year, it’s not like a bet that you have to win.’”
‘I should be there’
Suresh admitted to feeling out of place initially. “I knew no one. At Indian Arrows we were together for five to six years like brothers. Here, I had no friends. But the hunger was there. I used to see those firecrackers go up [during players' entry in ISL] and tell myself ‘I should be there.’”
In search of minutes, he didn’t think twice before turning out for the club’s B side in the local BDFA Super Division. In early January, he was coming on as a substitute against FC Goa one evening and scoring the opener in the Super Division final the next morning.
The commitment has paid off. Of late, he is also coach Carles Cuadrat’s trusted soldier to man-mark the opposition’s most potent threats, a case in point being the way he nullified ATK’s Michael Soosairaj last Sunday. “The responsibility makes me happy and more confident. Last match I was on the wings, so I prepared by watching videos of how Udanta used to defend.”
This keen interest to learn and adapt has impressed senior midfielder Erik Paartalu. “It’s outstanding that he is showing such versatility at such a young age,” says the Australian. “The kid has a big future. But what I love about him is he has got a level head. He is the only one that has asked the senior boys for advice and guidance and that’s why he will go to the next level.”
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