Updated: June 30, 2020 7:50:37 am
With the restart of the domestic season weeks away, The Indian Express looks into the up-and-coming stars of tomorrow in ‘India’s New Hopes’.
Born in a family where money was scarce, Amarjit Singh Kiyam knew to keep his dreams humble. Yet there was one dream which refused to remain modest — to represent his country with a ball at his feet. At 19, that is exactly the dream that he is living right now.
Beaming with a smile on his face, Amarjit tells indianexpress.com, “Everything still feels like a dream. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that I would lead my nation in a World Cup, and now after three years, here I am, with five senior appearances to my name.”
After leading the historic India side at the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2017 on home soil, the shy midfielder has only gone on to climb higher stairs. Right after the biennial tournament, the Manipur-born player joined the Indian Arrows in the same year. By the summer of 2018, he had joined Jamshedpur FC.
“Right from the AIFF Elite Academy, we were guided by our coaches on how to go about our club careers. I am really thankful to AIFF for sending us to Indian Arrows in 2017… the playing time we got in I-League by going up against clubs like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal… it was very vital to our growth curve,” he says.
Two years later, Amarjit was preparing himself for his debut ISL season. More importantly, he received his senior debut against Curacao in the King’s Cup. “Although I was nervous then, Igor Stimac’s belief in me and the support of my seniors — Chhetri-bhai, Gurpreet-bhai, and Udanta-bhai — really motivated me. Like always, I gave my all on the pitch that day,” says Amarjit.
Soon after his debut, which made him the first player to be born after 2000 to play in the senior India team, Amarjit settled in the senior team midfield alongside Anirudh Thapa and Sahal Abdul Samad. The momentum of appearances in the King’s Cup and Intercontinental Cup was, however, brought to a halt with a double arm fracture in August last year, which ruled him out for four months.
“Looking back, the injury didn’t ruin 2019 for me. In football, you are bound to suffer setbacks every once in a while… you get injured or your form dips, but the one thing you should keep in mind is to never stop the hard work. I put the past behind and in January, I made my ISL debut against Bengaluru FC thanks to the faith of the head coach Antonio Iriondo,” he says.
Even after his whirlwind rise, Amarjit remains the same unassuming teenager from Thoubal who left home when he was nine-years-old. Inspired by his elder brother Umakanta, who represented India at the U16 level, he started to work towards his dream quite early.
His journey speaks of wisdom beyond his years. “By the time I was six, I had started training under my uncle, Diben Thoujam, along with his son, Jeakson [who currently plays for Kerala Blasters]. In 2010, I moved to Chandigarh and I got myself admitted to the Chandigarh Football Academy (CFA) so as to not be a burden on my family. Initially, I played as a winger but I got shifted to midfield by the time I was selected for the India U14 squad. Since then, I have been improving in my position… at U16, U17, U19, U20, U23, and now in the senior team,” says Amarjit.
“Along the way, I made many sacrifices and got acquainted with different languages and cultures. I had decided back in 2010 that I have to always consider myself as a professional player if I want to succeed. The love that I have for football always kept me going even in alienating surroundings,” continued the 19-year-old who grew up admiring Bhaichung Bhutia, Gourmangi Singh, Renedy Singh, and Oinam Bembem Devi.
For the past two months now, Amarjit has been revisiting his childhood grounds to train on his own to prepare for the next season. Although the lonesome training may be unfamiliar to him, his unexpectedly long stay at home has brought back all that was familiar to him once.
“Unexpectedly, the lockdown has been kind to me. I’m not exactly a Netflix or Amazon Prime kind of a person, so I used the majority of my time with my parents,” says Amarjit, whose father Chandra Mani Singh Kiyam, is a small-time farmer. On the other hand, his mother, Ashangbi Devi Kiyam, sells fish in Imphal — 45 minutes away from Thoubal.
When the defensive midfielder is not mopping up the mess on the pitch, he likes to play carrom, watch sports documentaries, and get better at table tennis.
But when it comes to thoughts on the future, only one sport occupies him.
“I can’t wait to go back to Jamshedpur and join the squad for pre-season and get busy with the team-bonding activities. I miss the training complex, Flatlet, and the cricket sessions with my teammates. But before all that, I really want to have dinner with my World Cup gang in Imphal once everything returns to normal,” Amarjit says.
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