FROM SELLING soda at football stadiums in Thrissur, Kerala, to becoming India’s top striker in the late 1990s and playing for India from 1989 to 2004, I M Vijayan has seen it all. The 48-year-old former India player, who was adjudged AIFF Player of the Year three times in his career now works as a Circle Inspector with Kerala Police. The former India international was in Chandigarh to watch the OORJA CAPF U-19 Football Talent Hunt Championship. Seeing football players from the states of Haryana, Punjab and Chandigarh, Vijayan was impressed with the talent in the region.
“I still remember my days as a soda vendor and selling soda at the football stadiums in Thrissur. Playing football in Kerala helped me become what I am today and seeing the youngsters here also reminds me of my younger days. Players like Robin Singh and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu from Punjab have done well for the Indian senior team and girls from places like Bhiwani have done well at the senior level. It is good to see such talent emerge from this region,” said Vijayan while talking to Chandigarh Newsline.
After retiring from the national team in 2004, Vijayan still trains youngsters at the football academy run by Kerala Police in Thrissur and the footballer was recently appointed national observer for football by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in March this year. The Kerala resident played at the club level till 2006 and has been following Indian football from close.
With the Indian football team climbing to 100th spot in the latest FIFA rankings, Vijayan believes that the team can only improve from here.
“The Indian team won against Nepal in the Asian Cup qualifiers earlier this week and the win will boost their confidence for their next match against Kyrgyzstan. Players like Sunil Chettri have done well at the Asian level and the team has played well consistently. The rise in rankings will also help the team for the future. I have also played under coach Stephen Constantine and he has been doing a good job. He has managed the players with confidence and with more wins at the Asian level, the Indian team can improve their world ranking further,” said Vjjayan.
The former footballer had also played for JCT Phagwara from 1994 to 1997 and 2002 to 2004, scoring 21 goals in 48 games for the Punjab club. Vijayan also featured in the club’s maiden national title win in the National Football League in 1997. “I have fond memories of playing for JCT Phagwara. We won the title in the first year and spending time with players like Bhaichung Bhutia meant a lot. There were talented Punjab players like Tejinder Singh, Manjinder Singh and Gurtej Singh, who did well for the club and I always believe Punjab has the talent to succeed at the international level,” said Vijayan, who has also starred in Tamil and Malayalam movies.