The four-year wait is over. The World Cup is here, and fans from across the world are all geared up to live and breathe football for the next one month. The scene is no different in India too. While the country has never been able to make it to the world’s biggest football event, it got to host the U-17 FIFA World Cup last year. And after scoring a header against Columbia, Jeakson Singh of Manipur became the first and the only Indian to score at a FIFA World Cup.
The footballer spoke to us about his goal and the status of Indian football among other things.
How was the reception after that famous goal? Did anything change post the goal?
I never thought that I would score in the World Cup, as I was playing as a defensive midfielder. The reception after that (goal) was great. It’s very heartening to see the whole of Manipur happy because of me. Not much has changed, but the confidence level has surely gone up.
Who was your inspiration growing up?
Undoubtedly, my family. Especially my brother and my father. Despite not being well-off financially, they always motivated me. My father is my coach. And my brother (Jonichand Singh, also a footballer) is the reason behind my passion for football. He always wanted me to shine for the country.
You mentioned about your financial condition. Do you want to say anything about it?
I don’t come from a very privileged background. My father was a vegetable vendor. It was difficult to travel for our matches. Later on, my father also got sick, so the responsibility of the family came on my brother. But somehow, we managed it.
Who is your favourite player?
Baichung Bhutia is my favourite Indian player. Nemanja Matic is my overall favourite. He plays as a defensive midfielder, like I do. I have always looked up to him.
Do you think, the U-17 WC helped India?
I can’t claim it to be sudden and because of the U-17 WC, but the facilities and the grounds improved. There are a lot of good players emerging from all parts of the country, thus the competition has also intensified.
How is the football scene in Manipur?
It’s difficult for the Manipuri boys to enter the national football circuit. There isn’t much money involved in Indian football, so that becomes an issue as most of the players come from a lower-middle class background. But there are a lot of skillful players in Manipur.
Did the government provide any help?
Yes, there are a lot of scholarships for the students playing football. Also, the Manipur state government gave rs 5 lakh before the World Cup.
How are the facilities provided by the administration? Do you think there’s any room for development?
The facilities are improving, and there’s no complaint about that. The standard has certainly increased. The problem in our country is that there’s very less competitive football happening. Also, we play very less matches. Thus due to lack of match practice, we cannot improve on our game.
The IPL brought a revolution in Indian cricket. Do you think ISL can do the same with the dynamics and economics of football in the country?
I haven’t thought about that very much. But ISL did introduce football to a lot of people in the country. A lot of people are watching football because of ISL.
What are your hobbies?
I follow European football. I like to watch it on TV. Manchester United and Real Madrid are my favourite teams. Apart from that, I really enjoy listening to Punjabi, Manipuri and English music.
How do you manage your studies with football?
It is very difficult. One cannot do two things at one time. I am not able to focus on my studies due to football practice and competitions.
Can India win the World Cup some day?
Surely, we can! But still, for that a lot of changes would be needed. But with the amount of emerging talent coming in, I am very hopeful of that. Football should be promoted everywhere in the country.
Jeackson Singh, when contacted, was in Saudi Arabia for a training camp. He looks forward to perform better for the country, and be part of the senior national team.