Jackichand Singh: ISL experience has improved Indian players

Despite his ascent up the rungs of fame and popularity, India footballer Jackichand Singh is candid enough to admit that he is still learning.

Jackichand Singh of FC Goa tries to get past Bengaluru FC’s defence during the ISL final in 2018.   -  Sportzpics / ISL

From running uphill daily on the treacherous slopes of Shillong to enhance his speed and stamina, Jackichand Singh has come a long way to become one of the most effective wingers in the country’s top league — Indian Super League (ISL). The self-taught midfielder has a penchant for learning and has picked up a lot of new methods of ‘modern football’ in the company of proficient European coaches and teammates that the ISL has introduced the Indian players to. From his humble start with Royal Wahingdoh at the beginning of the decade, Jackichand has traversed the distance to be considered one of the most sought-after Indian footballers currently. Despite his ascent up the rungs of fame and popularity, Jackichand is candid enough to admit that he is still learning and says that the best thing to have happened for Indian footballers because of the ISL is awareness about diet and fitness.

You started your professional journey with Royal Wahingdoh in Shillong. How do you assess your progress?

I was with the Army Boys Academy in Shillong before starting my professional career with Wahingdoh. I was in the academy for quite some time and also turned out for Wahingdoh in the local league. When I joined Wahingdoh, the club was trying to make its way through to the I-Legaue elite division. And in 2014 we managed to qualify to the I-League proper. This is how I learnt to take on challenges early in my career. The Wahingdoh experience worked out well when I ventured out to play for a host of clubs in the last six seasons.

Jackichand Singh

From: Manipur

Age: 28

Position: Winger

Current club: Jamshedpur FC

Past clubs: Royal Wahingdoh, Pune City, Salgaocar, Mumbai City, East Bengal, Kerala Blasters, FC Goa

National team: India

Matches: 19

Goals: 2

What kind of transformation have you witnessed in Indian football since the start of the Indian Super League?

There has been a considerable transformation in the standard and approach towards the game. Every passing year has been a revelation to me especially after the ISL started. We learnt what modern football is all about as we were exposed to the right ways of diet, rest and practice. Our approach to the game as a player was quite different as we were less aware about what to eat, when to rest and the best methods of training.

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The foreign coaches employed by the ISL teams were definitely a few notches higher that what we had before. The presence of sports scientists (fitness coaches, strength and conditioning coaches) in the support staff has increased the awareness about the needs of modern football among Indian players.

ISL was introduced as a tournament that was supposed to help in the development of Indian football. As a player how much progress, do you think, has been made in that direction?

As a player I can say the ISL coaches and the support staff have taken extra care to make the Indian players comfortable and competent. During the I-League days the activities were more on the ground but now we work more on improving our fitness, which means spending a good amount of time in doing the core exercises in the gymnasium. We also get to learn a lot about proper diet and adequate rest to raise our fitness quotient.

Sergio Lobera, then coach of FC Goa, and Jackichand at a press conference. “Sergio Lobera knew how to get the best out of a player. He ensured that every player remained in the best shape, both mentally and physically,” says Jackichand.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

 

Do you think this will have a positive effect on the performance of the national team in future?

The ISL clubs are definitely setting a high benchmark for growth and development. What we used to experience under foreign coaches in the National team is now provided round the year by our clubs. This kind of synchronisation was long needed and it is nice to see that the ISL is providing the Indian players the right support. As players we brought in our respective food habits along with us but that has changed for good. Every player is now aware of what to eat, how much to eat and when to eat. This is certainly a new development for most of us. We are now more educated about what a healthy diet is all about and that is surely enhancing our fitness levels. This is also helping us perform better for the national team. You must have seen this difference in the last couple of years.

Sunil Chhetri, the national captain, is our idol in that respect. He has been guiding us about the necessity of maintaining a proper diet and see how fit he is even at age of 36.

You have been a part of the national team since 2015. How is the team shaping under Igor Stimac?

Donning the national colours is always a proud moment. It is the dream of every footballer. I have been a part of the national side for quite some time now and I will always strive to remain with it as long as possible. It is quite remarkable in the way our new National team coach has been trying out young players. It will definitely boost the confidence of the youngsters and make the National squad strong. I feel the right combination of youth and experience will bring a good balance to our National team. Again, there should always be competition for every spot in the team and that will inspire better performances from everyone.

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How much have you learnt from foreign players in the dressing room?

We get to interact with a number of good quality foreign players for a greater part of the year. As colleagues and teammates they help us to understand the game and also about what the coach is trying to convey. We definitely gain a lot when they share their experience of playing in different international leagues.

Jackichand Singh, then with Royal Wahingdoh Football Club, was adjudged Best Player of the I-League in 2015.   -  K. Murali Kumar

 

You were at your best at FC Goa. Coach Sergio Lobera mentioned you on a number of occasions while praising the performance of his team. What helped you emerge as one of the best Indian wingers?

I started off as a central midfielder during my Army Boys Academy days but after I joined Royal Wahingdoh, one of my coaches was impressed with my speed and started using me as a winger. I was good on both the wings and spent a big part of my time in Shillong perfecting it. The hilly terrain of Shillong gave me the advantage of high-altitude training and I regularly did sprints uphill to improve my speed and stamina.

But at times I struggled to produce that intensity in a match, which I later understood was the result of taking too much of food or fluids before the match. Once I joined FC Goa, these flaws were corrected and I could perform at the desired intensity.

Coach Sergio Lobera knew how to get the best out of a player. He ensured that every player remained in the best shape, both mentally and physically. He made the practice sessions interesting. It was less repetitive and he introduced us to new drills and formations. I saw the players enjoy his methods and it reflected in our performance during matches.

Your good show with FC Goa for two seasons secured a contract with Jamshedpur FC. Do you think you can reproduce the same form under Owen Coyle?

I have spent enough years as a professional footballer and I am certain I will be able to understand what Owen Coyle is expecting from me and I will be able to justify my role accordingly. I have seen his methods as a coach with Chennaiyin FC and I am sure I will be having a good season with Jamshedpur FC too.