A young boy from Moirang – Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem – became a household name across the nation after his performances for India at the FIFA U-17 World Cup two years ago. With the 2020 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup set to take place in India, another youngster from Moirang – Shilky Devi – is looking to make a similar mark and go where no Indian woman footballer has gone before.
“In the future, I want to play in another country. I want to play in Europe,” the 14-year-old says, with a smile that exudes confidence and excitement at the same time.
The starlet from Manipur has her eyes set on the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup — a tournament that the “whole country is looking forward to”, according to Shilky. She said, “Hosting and playing a World Cup is not a regular affair and we are very lucky to be getting a chance to play in it. All of India is looking forward to the tournament and I am thankful to the AIFF for giving us this great opportunity.”
Shilky’s journey began with the 14-year-old following her two elder brothers onto the football field and soon enough, she developed a serious passion for the game, and decided that she wanted to pursue the sport seriously. However, there was some resistance to overcome.
“Both my parents work as cooks. My father is a big football fan and always encouraged me to play. My mother did not like to see me play initially and often said that girls should not play football. However, that changed with time and now, she is extremely supportive of my ambitions,” she recounted.
Shilky quickly broke into the national team and has also had the honour of wearing the captain’s armband for India – at the SAFF U-15 Women’s Championship 2018 in Bhutan, which India won and where Shilky finished as the joint top-scorer, and at the AFC U-16 Women’s Championship 2019 qualifiers in Mongolia last year.
Leading one’s national team comes with added pressure and responsibility but for Shilky, it was something she easily took in her stride. She said, “Initially, there was pressure but now I have gotten used to the role. I actually enjoy guiding others now and keeping the team together.”
“It’s a great feeling to be a part of this well-knit team. All of us encourage and push each other to do better and pick each other up. The team spirit is great and everyone is motivated to give their best,” she added.
Shilky talked about how the legendary Bembem Devi is among her role models and with Manipur producing a number of international-level players, the youngster has found support and encouragement from some star names.
“I have practiced with players such as Dheeraj and Udanta (Singh) back home, which was really a great experience and they really encouraged me to keep playing and train hard. I have played with and against women’s senior team players such as Ashalata Devi, Dangmei Grace, Ratanbala Devi — and they have been nothing but inspiring. My role model is Bembem Devi and she keeps motivating me as well, which is such a great feeling,” she said.
Up next for the India U-17 team is the U-17 Women’s Football Tournament 2019 in Mumbai, which will be played at the Mumbai Football Arena from December 13-19, 2019 and will see the team face Sweden and Thailand – two nations with a formidable record in international women’s football.
Shilky, who will be a key cog in the Indian defence, also shared her thoughts on how she has grown as a player in recent months. “Earlier, I used to try and dribble the ball up and down the pitch but now I have learnt how we can pass the ball as the team and control the game with possession. I have also been learning how to defend solidly in one-on-one situations and understand when to put in the tackle,” she quipped.