Indian women’s football star Ngangom Bala Devi has become the first Indian woman to earn a professional football contract abroad after signing for Scottish giant Rangers FC. The move, facilitated by Bengaluru FC which entered into a two-year collaboration with Rangers last September, was announced at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Wednesday.
The 29-year-old from Manipur has put pen to paper on an 18-month contract after a successful trial last November and will don the prestigious No.10 jersey at the Glasgow-based side. She will become Rangers’ first-ever Asian international footballer.
“Bala will be a key player for us,” said Rangers FC legend Mark Hateley, on the occasion. “She has earned the right. We don’t give that shirt that easily! She impressed us all. Amy McDonald (Women’s and Girls’ Manager) was all praise. Gregory [Vignal] (coach) was waxing lyrical about her and he is someone who has played at the highest level with France and Liverpool. He could spot the talent in just 10-15 minutes.”
Bala Devi’s distinguished international career began when she was called up to the senior Indian team aged just 15. She is the current top-scorer for India, netting 52 times in 58 games, and is also the top international goal scorer in the South Asian region. She was named the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Women’s Player of the Year twice -- in 2015 and 2016 -- and has been the top-scorer in the Indian Women’s League for the past two seasons.
“I am very excited with this move,” she said. “I just want to work hard and play well and make the country proud. I want to also inspire the next generation of kids. From childhood, I always believed that I could play abroad. In 2005 with the under-19 team in Korea I had scored a lot. Our skills were appreciated and I have felt motivated since then.”
Bala Devi last featured abroad in the Maldivian league for New Radiant Sports Club alongside statemate and idol Bembem Devi, who was awarded the Padma Shri this year. But Rangers will be a significant step up from the not-fully professional Maldivian league.
“The Maldives was just for one month, but that was also a step,” said the Manipur Police Sports Club footballer. “Before that, we didn't even have an opportunity of playing in a league. So in Scotland, I was confident [during the trial]. I have played for India for 14 years and for my state for 17 years. I have also played in Europe on two occasions. I am sure I will do well.”
The move, according to Bengaluru FC CEO Mandar Tamhane, could be a game-changer for Indian women’s football with the country all set to host the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in 2020. “One of our key points of collaboration was to develop women’s football and this is the outcome of that,” he said.
“Getting the work permit is always tough. But Rangers was committed enough to invest in a legal team to complete this. We got letters of support from Praful Patel (AIFF president), Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri, Bembem Devi, Renedy Singh and the Scottish authorities were unanimous in their approval.”
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