Two thumping victories- a 2-1 win over Chinese Taipei and even more impressive 4-0 thrashing of Guam- in the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers at Yangon,Myanmar,and India look on course to make their appearance in the 2014 edition of the Cup. On March 6,India will play against hosts Myanmar in what is seen as a must-win victory for the Indian team to stay at the top of the group as the top team from the group qualifies for the Cup to be held in Maldives. While a historic moment beckons the Indian team,another player Sandesh Jhingan,thousands of kilometres away from Yangon and currently recuperating from an ankle injury in Bhutan,the Land of the Thunder Dragon,with his team members of United Sikkim Football Club,will perhaps question himself why he is not with Wim Koeverman and Co.
As one of the most exciting talents to have emerged from the Northern part of India,Chandigarh based Sandesh hardly took time to steal attention from Koeverman with his consistent performances for the Sikkim-based club. He was named in the Indian probables for the AFC Challenge Cup and the player from Chandigarh seemed destined to fulfill his long cherished dreams of wearing the Indian blue flannel shirt. But the moments that followed not only halted his dreams of representing the country but also saw his chances of playing for a foreign club going up in smoke.
It was not only Koeverman or other scouts from Indian clubs who were following his progress,another two Chinese League One clubs also showed interest in him and had told Sandesh to fly down to Shanghai to appear in trials. It was a massive moment for Sandesh and even the foreign coaches at his club knew this fact. While he began preparing for the trials,life decided to give another piece of the pie to him. Koeverman told him to join the Indian preparatory camp as soon as he could. Caught between two different dreams,Sandesh found himself at a crossroad,unable to decide which road to take. Country before anything else,he decided.
“I didn’t go to China as I was called to join the national team at the same time. I was called for two-week trials in China and I was almost ready to board the flight on February 15 when I was asked to report to the camp on February11. Both my dreams had come true at the same time but I chose to play for my country first. I guess sometimes life has other plans for you,” shared Sandesh,a former trainee at St Stephen’s Football Academy.
Life definitely had other plans for Sandesh as just on the second day of the camp,he suffered a knee injury and was ruled out for one month. That news came landed many blows on his face,and he saw his dreams come crashing down. Almost a week ago,he had the luxury of choice to follow any of his dreams,but now he was once again standing on the threshold of oblivion. While injury is a part of a life of a football player,it does pinch him because injuries had hit him hard at the most crucial phases of his life. Almost two years ago,Sandesh had seen a similar dream crashing. He had just been selected for the Indian U-19 camp and like other hopefuls,was keen to stake a claim in the team. His dreams were however short-lived as he suffered an injury in his knee and was ruled out for three months. He took time to return to fitness and gain full strength and was once again ready to give another shot at his dreams. He returned to the ground but the result was the same: his injured knee once again failed him.
The blow that he suffered on his body and dreams have made him stronger,physically and mentally. “All these incidents have made me a stronger person now. I have a dream and that is to play for the country and though these injuries can delay the inevitable for some time,I know my moment will arrive when the time is right. I am just going to keep working hard. Yes,it is frustrating to watch your dreams slips away from the hands but I am staying positive,” crackled Sandesh,who plays as a defender.
Among all the ups and downs,Sandesh has found a father-figure in Bhaichung Bhutia,the legendary Indian footballers and the owner of the United Sikkim FC. “Bhaichung bhai has helped a lot in helping me evolve as a player and I respect him a lot. He was the first one to offer me the contract to play professional football. I cannot forget whatever he has done for me,” he added.
After turning heads with consistent performance at the state level,Sandesh further consolidated his reputation as a solid defender with fine performances to help Chandigarh win the DR BC Roy Trophy for under-19 football tournament and also playing an anchor role to help St Stephen’s Football Academy reach the South East Asia finals of the Manchester United Premier Cup.
“I was just a kid who loved to play football anywhere at any time. I also had a dream to become a professional footballers,” he shared. That dream come true when United Sikkim offered him a contract when they were still in I-League 2nd Division. He was part of the team that was later promoted to I-League 1st Division last year. Since then,Sandesh has made several memorable appearances for the Sikkim-based club.
Right now Sandesh is looking to recover from the injury and after that he will definitely try to make his dreams come true.