Thanks to her tall and powerful frame, 15-year-old Martina Thokchom literally stands head and shoulders above her teammates as they train at the Mumbai Football Arena. The Indian U-17 Women’s World Cup squad is currently in Mumbai ahead of the much-awaited U17 Women’s Football Tournament 2019 that begins on Friday, December 13.
A powerful central midfielder, Martina’s interest was sparked in the beautiful game by her father Thokchom Sanatomba – a former state-level footballer himself. “I used to play football in our house with my father from the time I was a kid,” she recalls.
“He was a football player himself, and I developed a passion for the game very early. Seeing my interest, my mother enrolled me into a local grassroots programme when I was 10 or 11. I just continued playing. My parents have always been really supportive and have encouraged me to play.”
Hailing from Yourbung in Manipur, Martina represented KRYHPSA where she was trained by current Indian Senior Women’s National Team assistant coach Chaoba Devi, and rubbed shoulders with many other players from the team – including her role model Dangmei Grace.
“I learned a lot training under Chaoba ma’am. The senior players keep talking to me and encourage me to give my best. It is a wonderful feeling to be appreciated by them. Seeing them win titles for India inspires me. I want to do the same and make my nation and family proud,” Martina explains.
Most players want to be strikers and score goal after goal when they begin playing but for Martina – there is something she loves even more than finding the net right from the beginning.
“I have been a midfielder from the start because I just love giving through-passes. It’s a really amazing feeling when a teammate scores from my through-pass,” she quipped with a wide smile.
Her height gives her an added advantage as well. “I really enjoy scoring from headers as well. I go up every chance I get and I am glad I can give my team the chance to score from corners using my head.”
Martina was selected as a probable for the India U-17 team after her performances for Manipur at the Hero Junior Women’s NFC in April earlier this year. She was also part of the team that won four matches in a row in Hong Kong two months later. Since then, she feels she has improved a lot in various departments and credited coaches Thomas Dennerby and Alex Ambrose for their role in it.
“I have learned a lot about the basics of the game from the coaches in the last few months and I feel I have improved in all the different aspects such as passing, shooting and heading. I have improved physically as well thanks to the different type of exercises we do,” she remarked.
With India set to host the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup next year, Martina is determined to put her best foot forward in order to nail down a place in the Indian line-up for event. “Playing in the World Cup will be a dream come true and I am excited that India is hosting it. However, I know that I have to make sacrifices and keep working hard for it.”