The Northeast part of the country has always been integral to Indian football, especially Manipur – a steady stream of footballers with the likes of Renedy Singh, Tomba Singh, Surkumar Singh, James Singh amongst others making a name for themselves on the National circuit.
Clubs vied against each other to recruit the best talent but no Manipuri club came through the system.
All of that has changed as NEROCA FC etched history by becoming the first club from Manipur to win the Second Division League and qualify for the I-League.
NEROCA FC coach Gift Raikhan turned philosophical on this topic. “Manipur has been a traditional powerhouse of Indian Football. We at NEROCA FC had a dream, we the people of Manipur had a dream and we are very proud that we have achieved it. Football is about passion and support. Shillong and Aizawl turned out in numbers so will now Imphal,” he reflected.
Over the years, Manipur has been a rich supply line to the Indian National team. The late 90s had seen a surge of talent from the region. And they peaked with the state becoming the first Northeastern state to lift the Santosh Trophy in 2002-03. But a spate of retirements thereafter and subsequent rise of Meghalaya and Mizoram saw the state fall behind. But NEROCA’s win might be the catalyst for a new revolution.
Raikhan believes so. “Till now we were just another Club from Imphal. But after the Durand Cup and now the Second Division title we belong to all of Manipur. The people from Northeast might not be economically rich but they are rich in footballing culture and passion. From small children to the elderly, all love football. And I think Manipur will rise once again and maybe even do better than even before,” he quips.
Former India international Renedy Singh though had some word of caution. “From around 1996 to 2011 Manipur had a good team in place. We reached the finals of the Santosh trophy twice and won it once during that time but they did not have a backup plan in place. Quite a few players retired and the other states went ahead, while Manipur were left behind,” he recollected.
“With v, Manipur can once again try to lead the Northeast region. But first we need to learn from our past mistakes and build for the future.”
The star midfielder opined that the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup in India can also help in unearthing more talent. “With India hosting the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup I think more youngsters will take up the game especially in Manipur. I hope the interest leads to more nursery leagues. Camps are being organised but longer nursery leagues will help even more.”
Thus we can’t say for sure that Manipur is witnessing a new revolution but the first sparks has surely been ignited. And not only Manipur but Indian football as a whole will stand to benefit if this spark can light a fire.
by AIFF Media