Having turned 17 in November last year, Manisha is the youngest player in India’s 20-member contingent at the SAFF Women’s Championship 2019.
The lanky forward from Punjab has already overcome numerous odds, both on and off the pitch, thus, making her journey to the senior team an inspirational one. Having made her top-level debut against Hong Kong in January 2019, and with “her best years ahead of her”, she is being touted as the ‘one to look out for’.
TAKE OF GRIT AND DETERMINATION
The youngster was born in Muggowal village in Hoshiarpur district. Her father works as a labourer, and is the sole breadwinner in the household. But despite the financial hardships, and sociological pressure, Manisha continued to pursue her footballing dream.
“I have been playing football since 13,” she informs AIFF Media in a candid chat. “In school, I started out with athletics but one day, my coach Brahmji-sir asked me to try my hand at football. I enjoyed the teamwork involved in the sport, and fell in love instantly,” she says.
But there were obstacles. While her parents were always by her side, Manisha reveals that the people in her village often disapproved of her taking up the sport.
“My family supported me from the beginning but other people around us were critical and wanted me to stop playing. A girl playing football was just not acceptable,” she states.
But her love and determination was not all roses. “Once while I was playing in a state tournament, from where selections for the Nationals was being done. But my name wasn’t on the final list. I was devastated.”
The moment finally came in July last year, when she was named in the Indian U-17 team that participated in the BRICS Football Cup in South Africa. “We got the chance to play against top teams such as Brazil, and Russia,” said Manisha, who even found the net against China.
Come October, she played a crucial role in the Indian team’s memorable victory against Thailand in the AFC U-19 Women Championship qualifiers, providing an assist for the match-winner after a powerful solo run.
Impressed, Head Coach Maymol Rocky summoned her to the National Team camp, and the very next month, she represented the Senior Team in Hong. The journey from Hoshiarpur to Hong Kong got completed. “Being selected to play for India was an unbelievable experience.”
Manisha was handed her first-ever start against Myanmar at the Gold Cup in February, which she refers to as the most memorable moment of her life. “We were playing on home turf, and I started in playing XI. It was an incredible feeling. I was proud, and nervous at the same time,” she laughs.
“I struggled to hold back my tears while singing the National Anthem.”
Blessed with power and pace, she has already made heads turn with her performances at age-group level for India and has been climbing up the ranks at a rapid pace.
At nearly six feet tall, Manisha literally stands out on the field. Her height and well-built physique gives her coach some valuable options upfront.
“It’s amazing,” refers Maymol. “Her quality, that too at just 17 is amazing. She has the speed, the strength and the finishing. She has all the attributes to be the perfect No. 9,” the coach declares.