It may have become the norm in cricket but on Friday, Sandesh Jhingan became one of the few Indian footballers to join the crore-club after he was offered a Rs 1.55 crore contract by Indian Super League (ISL) side Kerala Blasters. The deadline for the eight ISL franchises to retain players ended on Friday, and Jhingan has emerged as the biggest winner among the Indians.
Sachin Tendulkar co-owned Kerala have handed a two-year extension to the young defender, who was one of the finds of the inaugural edition of the cash-rich football league. Apart from the huge contract money, Jhingan will also pocket 50 per cent of his loan fee, expected to be approximately Rs 40 lakh as he was loaned out by IMG-Reliance to Sporting Clube de Goa for the ongoing I-League season.
Jhingan is the first Indian footballer to be handed a crore-plus contract in the ISL. Overall in Indian football, only Sunil Chhetri, Subrata Pal and Gouramangi Singh have managed to get such hefty contracts in domestic football.
By retaining him for the upcoming season, Kerala have ensured their back-line continues to remain strong. Jhingan was one of the standout performers in the inaugural ISL. The 21-year-old was named the Emerging Player of the Tournament owing to some match-winning performances. Known for his strength and ability to deal with aerial balls, Jhingan personified calmness in pressure situations and read the game well, a trait crucial for a centre-back.
The footballer, who is a product of Chandigarh’s St Stephen’s School Academy, said he hopes to raise his game further. “It is so encouraging to be part of such a team that has great faith in young players. I gave my best shot in the ISL and I guess I made some impression,” he said. “The foremost thing is that the game is growing and like cricketers, even footballers are being paid well. I am looking forward to the ISL season ahead. It would be wonderful to once again raise my game and show my abilities.”
On the basis of his performances in the ISL, Jhingan made his India debut against Nepal in the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Asian Cup first round joint qualifying match against Nepal, which was India coach Stephen Constantine’s first outing. Jhingan is hoping to cement his place in the national team, which will play its first group match of the qualifiers against Oman on June 11 in Bengaluru.
Jhingan will be keen to follow the footsteps of fellow St Stephens graduate Gurpreet Singh, who recently became the first Indian footballer to play a competitive match for a European first division club when he represented Stabaek in the Danish Tippeligaen. The defender said he had offers from a few European clubs following the ISL but they did not materialize due to visa issues.
“Right now, my focus is to play for the Indian team and whatever follows will be a bonus. My agent is in touch with foreign clubs, so I will be working on the offers in coming months,” said Jhingan.