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Sandesh Jhingan Exclusive: Indian football's bulwark on his humble beginnings, Kerala Blasters and World Cup dream

As India gears up for a new challenge at the World Cup qualifiers, Sandesh believes it can be a breakthrough moment for the team.

Sandesh Jhingan Exclusive: Indian footballs bulwark on his humble beginnings, Kerala Blasters and World Cup dream

Md Imtiaz

Published: 7 Sep 2019 5:16 AM GMT

The reliable bulwark of the Indian football team, Sandesh Jhingan, is set to show his defensive prowess again when the Blue Tigers take on Qatar on Tuesday in their second match of the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers in Doha. Despite a defeat in the opening match against Oman, Sandesh, who is enjoying his time under the new system being employed by head coach Igor Stimac believes this tournament is going to be a moment of reckoning for the team that is now well-adjusted to the new brand of football being incorporated by the Croatian.

The captain of the Indian Super League (ISL) side Kerala Blasters FC has always shown his warrior spirit and never shied away from the physicality of the game, tackling obstacles in the farthest corners of Indian defence. Those who follow him are well- versed with his aggressive on-field presence. However, many are unaware of this gentleman, who is an equally talented poet as evident on his Instagram feed.

Early days

The Chandigarh lad who is now a vital cog in the backline of the Indian football team had not quite planned to take up football during his childhood days and hugely credits his fondness for football to his brother Saurabh. "Like most kids in the block, I was playing cricket which was the most popular game in our city. My tryst with football began much later, through my elder brother Saurabh. He was the one to play it religiously and follow matches on the television, particularly the English Premier League. It was through him, I discovered my love for football. I followed his footsteps and started watching the sport and later took the streets to play the game," says Sandesh in an exclusive with The Bridge.

Hailing from Chandigarh, Sandesh Jhingan's interest for football picked up from his elder brother
Hailing from Chandigarh, Sandesh Jhingan's interest for football picked up from his elder brother

Hailing from a middle-class family, the Jhingans were weaving the same dream around their son - to work hard and settle down with a good job. Sandesh maintained good grades throughout his school but made sure he never compromised with his training. He got the opportunity to train at a local academy. Slowly, his transition as a footballer became evident, and his coaches were highly impressed with his game.

After I cleared my 10th standard exam in 2008, my brother kept on motivating me so that I pursue football. I also started watching the matches of our national team. It was a moment of reckoning as most youngsters were aiming to play for clubs like Real Madrid and Manchester United, I just wished to don the blue jersey and play for my country.

Sandesh who went on to play for Chandigarh started his senior career in 2011 with United Sikkim. In 2013, he was signed by Mumbai FC. Later he played for Sporting Goa, DSK Shivajians, and Bengaluru FC. Sandesh, never wanted to be a forward and sought the limelight. He was instead inspired by the game of the Italian-legend Paulo Maldini and the ex-United star Nemanja Vidic. Though he idolised those world-class icons, Sandesh was resolute to create his own identity. As a defender, he is proud of his never-give-up attitude and says that this perspective has been lent from the pages of history, which has dictated his career.

"I always had this affinity towards history and drew inspiration from characters like Chengiz Khan, Alexander, among others. My love for these characters dictated my on-field attitude, and it transpired me to give everything on the ground. Off-field I can come across as a completely different person," says the Indian centre-back.

The blaster of Kerala


After a one-year stint with Mumbai FC, Sandesh was signed by Kerala Blasters in the 2014 ISL Inaugural Domestic Draft. He spent the opening match of the season against NorthEast United on the bench before making his debut in the encounter against Chennaiyin FC, as the Blasters lost 2-1. He went on to be a consistent player and ended the tournament with not only with the Silver medal but also the "Emerging Player of the League" award. After a short loan spell with Sporting Goa, he was retained by the Kerala Blasters for the 2015 season, becoming the highest-paid Indian player in the league, earning more than a crore. Kerala and its fan-base, the Manjappada army holds a special place in his heart.

It has been six years I have been playing for Kerala Blasters. It’s always a delight to don the yellow jersey and play in front of such a big crowd. It always gives a good adrenaline rush to play in front of such passionate fans. I am bound by their love and their unflinching passion for football. Iain Hume was one of my partners and he is one of the finest footballers I have met in my life. Apart from that, I have played alongside some great footballers. Playing in the team has made me a mature person. Kerala Blasters is something I will always cherish and tell my grandchildren. The memories attached to it are so special and I will never forget the love they have shown me. Every time, I try to do my best to make Kerala proud. When 20,000 people are shouting your name it’s something that gives you a new boost.

Living the dream

Sandesh made his India debut in March 2015 against Nepal. Head coach Stephen Constantine gave him the opportunity. In 2017, Jhingan captained the Indian team for the Hero Tri-Nation Football Series. Indian Super League played a major role in bringing Jhingan’s talent to the forefront. He holds the record of being the most featured Indian player in the league. On 18th August 2017, he was honoured with the captaincy of the Indian squad.

Sandesh Jhingan made his India debut in March 2015 against Nepal

Sandesh says, "Playing for India was a dream come true. I always wanted to stand wearing the national jersey while the national anthem is being played. That itself is a special feeling. I owe my country a lot. It’s been a rewarding journey donning the blue jersey and playing for the blue tigers. We qualified for the Asian Cup, we broke a few records in the last four years since my debut. My debut for the Indian team was the most special moment in my life and it was a dream come true after working hard so much at the junior level. I remember that day, my mother was very proud of me. I was in the bench for two years. Stephen Constantine believed in me and I am grateful to him to allow me to play regularly." When asked about his role in the defence and not getting the attention like the forwards, he replies, "I get to do my job and try my best and put everything on the field to not concede a goal. I wear my duty proudly. It is always a team job that is required to win the match. I always try my best to keep a clean sheet."

On Constantine and Stimac

Sandesh Jhingan is enjoying his time under coach Igor Stimac
Sandesh Jhingan is enjoying his time under coach Igor Stimac

Sandesh has made his long stride in the Indian football team from the time of Stephen Constantine to presently under Igor Stimac. It was under the helm of Constantine, the Blue Tigers saw a sea change in its performance, from maintaining a thirteen-match unbeaten run in 2016, to climbing up the FIFA Ranking ladder and making it into the top 100 and not to forget, the powerful comeback against Thailand in the AFC Asian Cup this year to bag a 4-1 win. The Indian side hasn't been to its best under coach Stimac, who was in charge during the King's Cup and the Intercontinental Cup, but the defender believes the side is going through a transition, a system that is chalked out for the future of football.

Stephen had his own style of football, which suited well for us. Today, Igor is teaching us to play more controlling football, which I think is the future of the game. We get to have a lot of time with the ball but under Stephen, it was more of a direct football. We had some great tournament under Stephen. We are also enjoying our game under Igor. He has a different approach to the game, and we feel we are still adapting to the system. It is more of a game of ball-possession. We hope we would be performing to best of our potential in the coming days. I think the future of Indian football looks very bright. We are brave enough to make changes and prove our worth in the World Cup qualifiers. We believe in the system, and we will work to our best. It is a new beginning.

The bright days for Indian football team have begun believes Sandesh Jhingan
The bright days for Indian football team have begun believes Sandesh Jhingan

Sandesh, who was signed by Meraki Sport and Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, a brand and sponsorship management company with a core focus on sport believes Indian sports, is looking forward to a bright future with some promising youngsters coming into the team. Besides he is also of the opinion that footballers like Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet Singh are becoming household names today because of the popularity the game has amassed through the I-League and the ISL along with the constant support of the media. As India gears up for a new challenge at the World Cup qualifiers, Sandesh believes it can be a breakthrough moment for the team.

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