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Longer training session and more matches will help women team to grow: Bembem Devi

Longer training session and more matches will help women team to grow: Bembem Devi

Abdul Gani

Published: 19 Feb 2019 4:59 AM GMT
Oinam Bembem Devi has been the flag-bearer of Indian women football for the past two decades and the only second woman footballer to have won the prestigious Arjuna Award. Bembem who has given several memorable moments for Indian women football, has already received her B license from FIFA. In a conversation with The Bridge, the star from Manipur shares her thoughts. Some of the excerpts:
  1. It’s been almost three years since you retired from football. How’s the journey so far not being an active player anymore?
Bembem: Yes. It’s been a different journey for me. I’m learning new things which I never did. To be a player and to be a coach is two different things. Both have different kind of challenges and I’m enjoying it. I’m totally focusing on the coaching now. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) has assigned me the job to coach the under-15 side.  Apart from that I also provide coaching to the Manipur state team. There’s been a huge difference between these two phases of life. Earlier when I was a player, I didn’t have to think much…just go out in the middle and play your game. But as a coach, everything is on you…whom to place where and also about the tactics on the field. It’s more challenging. So, I need to keep on thinking football and also studying the team formations of different squads. I also try to speak to the senior coaches whenever I get time to discuss the game. Apart from that it’s also important to share my match experiences with my players. Telling them about the match temperament and the level of concentration among others are also very important.
When you look back to your playing days, which seem to be most memorable moment?
Bembem: That way it is a bit difficult to say because there are so many incidents in life which are especial in its own way. Playing for the country itself has been very special for every player. In 2001, I was declared the Woman Footballer of the year for the first time. I was quite young then and I was so happy for that. After 12 years break I again got the same award in 2013. Then I was honoured with the Arjuna award. You are also the first Indian woman footballer to play for a foreign club -- New Radiant SC of Maldives. How was the experience?
Bembem: Yes. Obviously I was pretty excited to be with a foreign outfit. My team won the tournament and they were very happy with my performance. One good thing was that the organizations and everybody there want to develop Maldives’ Women’s National team. While doing that they never think of money. That is the reason why Maldives Women’s league started several years ago. They just don’t look for Indian players but some really good women players from countries like Germany, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. How do you see the Indian women football team at the moment? Bembem: I’m happy to see the federation has allotted longer training session for the senior team. I have always been pushing for this. There’s nothing to happen in 30 or 45-day coaching. Now, they are getting at least three-month long training session. And more matches will help the team to improve. And financially also, if the condition is improved, I think the women team can go higher in the FIFA ranking.
You are the only second woman footballer to win the prestigious Arjuna award. So, tell me how difficult it is to be a woman footballer in India?
Bembem: It’s not that tough. But I think more girls should play the game in villages across the country. And only then, the women football will grow. Tell me something about your younger days. How did you come to play football? Bembem: I started playing since I was in the school. My father wanted me to focus at the studies but I strived to play the game. I fought with my father and told him that I will focus both at my studies and the game simultaneously. Initially he was adamant but gradually he was okay with it. So, I had to work really hard. I started playing with the boys of my class in the school. I had short hairs like boys and I used to go there wearing half-pants and played. Initially, I didn’t know much but gradually the interest increased. Finally in 1991, there was a girls’ team in the making and I was asked if I would be interested to be a part of it. I said yes and the journey continued. In that year itself I was selected for the sub-junior team when we played in Haryana. In 1993 I watched the senior inter-state tournament and I was determined to play at the highest level. And in 1995, I had my India debut.
Manipur women team has won 19 times out of 24…what is the success mantra?
Bembem: Yes. Our association is doing a good work. And the district associations too have been doing their work properly by regularly conducting the leagues. They are also focusing at the grass root development. So, the competition level is high. Even the girls at different levels, keep on practising with their respective clubs. So, I think the performance has come that way. Do you think ISL has been able to develop scenario in India? Bembem: Definitely, it has helped. I can see the speed has increased. But I think more Indian players should be made to play and the number of foreign players in the playing 11 should be reduced. What’s your plan in the long run? Bembem: I want to set up an academy for girls in Manipur. I have got almost everything ready. But I’m looking for a ground. Once that is done, I can start the academy.
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