‘Have talent and ability, need direction’

In a Sportstar exclusive, Jackichand Singh, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Israil Gurung open up about working with overseas players, the impact of the ISL on Indian football, and the life of a professional football player in a cricket crazy nation.

(L-R) Israil Gurung, Jackichand Singh and Eugeneson Lyngdoh of FC Pune City.   -  THE HINDU

FC Pune City have had a terrific start to this ISL season and they know that a win over their hosts for Saturday evening, Chennaiyin FC, will take them to the top of the table. While foreign imports like Tuncay Sanli and Didier Zokora have captured most of the attention, three of India’s finest have quietly gone about doing their business.

We spoke to Jackichand Singh, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Israil Gurung about working with overseas players, the impact of the ISL on Indian football, and the life of a professional football player in a cricket crazy nation.

Eugeneson and Jackichand, you weren’t part of the ISL last season, this is your first time. How has the experience been so far?

Eugeneson: It’s been really good so far. Ever since our names were mentioned in the auction, we were excited. Having missed it last year, it was all the more exciting. We’ve played in the I-League and looked forward to it every year, but here the feeling is different. We are playing against players of a much higher quality.

Jackichand: It is a lot of fun playing with the foreign players in the ISL. There are more of them here than there were in the I-League. You get to learn so much from them. The more we play with and against them, the more we will improve. The exposure we get in the ISL is much more than we did in the I-League.

Israil, you played in the ISL last season. What did you have to tell Jackichand and Eugeneson about the ISL?

Israil: The ISL did well last season. This season, the quality has increased, of not just foreign players but also of Indian players. These two (Jackichand and Eugeneson) are among the best players in the country and they were missing last year.

How do you see the Indian Super League impacting Indian football?

Eugeneson: It is a big positive for Indian football with the foreign players and coaches coming here. It is not just about what you learn on the field, but also off it. We may have the talent and ability, but it all comes down to the football knowledge we gain from those who come from places where there is an actual football culture in place.

Israil, you had a spell with Vitoria Guimaraes in Portugal last season. How was that experience?

Israil: Portugal is a footballing nation. The people there are very knowledgeable about football. Kids start playing football when they are as young as 7 years old, and that too with a proper kit. The infrastructure for football there is brilliant. We are missing all that here. The general footballing environment in Portugal is different. There is a big gap in the quality of football.

Jacki, you have played in the I-League with Royal Wahingdoh. After the arrival of the ISL, how do you think the I-League is doing right now?

Jackichand: The I-League and the ISL are very different from each other. The I-League was the face of Indian football but after the ISL came, that is now changing. With the foreign players and coaches, I think the ISL gives all players a better platform to succeed and also develop football in India.

Eugene, you have played for Bengaluru FC. Despite it being one of the best run clubs in the country, it may not have a future because of the crisis the I-League finds itself in.

Eugeneson: Despite the I-League being in the state it is now, we would not be here if it weren’t for the I-League. We wouldn’t have gotten a chance to play in the ISL if the I-League had not been there. The I-League has been there for so many years and it has provided a source of livelihood for so many players. I give credit to all the clubs who have been part of the I-League for all this while because if it weren’t for them, there would have been no football in India. I have to give credit to Churchill Brothers, Dempo, East Bengal and Mohun Bagan for their contributions to Indian football. I wish they would evolve with the generation so that football in the country would develop.

Do you want both the I-League and the ISL to co-exist, or an extended version of the ISL?

Eugeneson: Personally, I would like for there to be one league in the country. It would set aside the chaos a player has to face. It is very chaotic to play under 3-4 coaches in a single year and we also end up having about 70 teammates. The players need to sustain themselves and for that, a longer format is needed.

As individuals, we may be talented but we do not have the right road, the right pathway. We are going nowhere. India is a country that has tremendous talent. It is just the way that we have to be brought up in football so that we can compete on the international stage.

I just wish that we have a league that can sustain each and every player, a league that has three or four divisions. This way the pool of talent will be bigger than the current crop. I see it going in the right direction though.