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ISL is the spark igniting our belief to play in FIFA World Cup, says FC Goa's Sandesh Jhingan (WATCH)

"When we will be regular at the FIFA World Cups, trust me, people should and will say that the ISL was one of the sparks that ignited that fire. People will remember this league," said FC Goa's Sandesh Jhingan.

ISL is the spark igniting our belief to play in FIFA World Cup, says FC Goa's Sandesh Jhingan (WATCH) snt
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First Published Jan 4, 2024, 2:04 PM IST

FC Goa's centre-back Sandesh Jhingan stands as a pioneer and one of the most prominent products to emerge from the Indian Super League (ISL) ecosystem. Over the span of a decade, he has achieved remarkable success on the international stage, securing victories in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship in 2023, clinching the Intercontinental Cup twice (2018, 2023), and triumphing in the Tri-Nation series on two occasions (2017, 2023).

Hailing from Chandigarh, Jhingan made his debut for the senior national team in 2015, propelled by his stellar performances in the league. Transitioning from being a key figure in the celebrated 'Viking Clap' of the Blue Tigers to assuming a leadership role at the back, he has become a beacon of inspiration for his teammates in challenging moments. As a recipient of the Arjuna Award, Jhingan exudes confidence that India is destined to become a regular contender in the FIFA World Cups, with the ISL playing a pivotal role in the revolutionization of football in the country.

“ISL is so important. Every citizen of this country will be involved, and will be remembered, in 15-20 years, when India will be where we want us to be. Nobody believed in us when we were ranked 173, people used to ask whether India has a football team? We were supporting them at that point in time, and now people take notice of us,” said Jhingan, talking in the recent episode of ‘In The Stands’.

“I can’t sum up the role that the ISL has played in the recent performances of the national team. It’s massive. The impact of the ISL has been massive. You can’t sum it up in scale, in words, it’s just been so important for the growth of our country. When we will be regular at the FIFA World Cups, trust me, people should and will say that the ISL was one of the sparks that ignited that fire. People will remember this league,” he said.

Jhingan sees the ISL as a catalyst in fostering local inspirations, motivating young talents to pursue professional football. He contends that a whole generation of Indians previously looked up to European athletes due to the absence of homegrown heroes. According to him, the ISL has successfully addressed this issue, with aspiring footballers from Chandigarh and beyond now connecting with his story and endeavoring to carve out their own paths in a similar fashion.

“You need the local heroes. When I was a kid, my local heroes were Bhaichung (Bhutia) sir, (Sunil) Chhetri bhai, Renedy (Singh) bhai, I can say the whole team. Because, I was very involved in football. Many of my friends didn’t know anything about it. But, they know who plays for Manchester United, FC Barcelona, so when you have local heroes, you can connect more with them. For the next kid in Chandigarh who is from the same sector from where I am, they are just like me. So when you connect with local heroes, and realise they are normal human beings, it inspires you and gives you a more realistic idea that you can be there,” Jhingan explained.

Jhingan has steadily risen to become one of the most familiar faces in the Indian Super League (ISL). He stands as a pioneer and a significant product that emerged from the ISL ecosystem. For those unfamiliar, Jhingan made history as the inaugural recipient of the ISL Emerging Player of the Year award in 2014. His journey has seen him don jerseys for Kerala Blasters FC, Mohun Bagan Super Giant, and Bengaluru FC before embarking on a new chapter with the Gaurs, who sought a resurgence after a few disappointing seasons. Starting as a breakout 20-year-old star in 2014 and now a family man a decade later, Jhingan's life has come full circle, with the ISL playing a pivotal role in his journey. Interestingly, his move to FC Goa was influenced more by familial considerations than anything else.

“Manolo was the major influence behind my move to FC Goa. To be honest, it was a lot because of my family, my daughter too. Of course, if I was just with my wife, you would change your decisions. When I was single, I had different viewpoints. When you get married, you have different viewpoints. When you become a father, you become the last person you think of. I just felt like this is a good place for her to grow,” Jhingan said in an interaction with the league, touching upon his desire for her daughter to grow in the quaint and scenic state of Goa.

Over the course of a decade, he has achieved remarkable success at the international level, securing victories in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship in 2023, triumphing in the Intercontinental Cup twice (2018, 2023), and winning the Tri-Nation series on two occasions (2017, 2023). Despite these accomplishments, the elusive ISL trophy has evaded him, with four runner-up finishes (2014, 2016, 2020-21, 2022-23) leaving that particular accolade just out of reach.

Asked if he believes he can break that streak with FC Goa this season, he replied, “I never lack confidence.” Needless to say, the team has started off on a bright note on that front.

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