On Wednesday, the seven Manipur players of the Indian National Team were lucky to experience something that one of the state’s greatest players, Renedy Singh, couldn’t while representing the Blue Tigers on home soil.
“I was part of the national team for 12 years, but I never got to play even one match over here,” laughs Renedy, the star midfielder of the Senior National Team, who donned the Blue Tigers jersey no less than 66 times between 1998 and 2011.
He can’t be blamed for being at least a tiny bit jealous after witnessing such lively support for the Indian team. Everyone had goosebumps whenever the crowd chanted the names of their local heroes – whether it was Suresh Singh Wangjam warming up near the touchline or Mohammad Yasir stepping up to take a corner. Renedy remained the star performer in many of India’s memorable triumphs, including the LG Cup in Vietnam, the AFC Challenge Cup and twice the Nehru Cup, but never had the opportunity to play for the National Team in front of his home crowd in Manipur.
The current set of boys from Manipur in the National Team are lucky – the Federation’s decision to host India’s matches in Imphal has come as a huge morale booster for them.
“I feel 25-30 thousand people turning up for India’s first match in Manipur is a big thing. I’m really happy for the current Manipuri players, and I hope we get more matches in the future,” Renedy said.
“In this state, football has always been number one. It’s not cricket here in the northeast,” he avers. “As we all know, we’re one of the states which produces the most number of footballers, and we are still working hard to produce more. In every locality and community, you will see kids playing football. If the academies in Manipur keep working, I’m sure we’ll continue to provide good players in the future.”
Speaking of academies, Renedy himself is a coach at the Classic Football Academy, one of Manipur’s best, and one which is increasingly making its mark at the national level. CFA started as Renedy Football School in 2018 before taking up its current name three years ago.
“We just became the U-17 Youth Cup champions. Our U-21 squad qualified for the Manipur state league and won the Shaheed Manoranjan Singh Memorial Tournament, beating former champions Sagolband United 7-0,” Renedy proudly says.
Rigorous competition at the youth level is a big reason why Manipur stands out in terms of churning out national team players. “There are many academies in Manipur with former players as coaches who are also working hard. Our rivalry and competition will only help Indian football,” he claims.
As a coach, Renedy spends a lot of time analysing his team’s matches. In attendance at the India-Myanmar game, it was natural for him to make some assessments. “Our players are fit, fast and well-built, but the only thing I want to see is them being more comfortable with the ball,” he says.
As far as India’s next opponents, Kyrgyz Republic, are concerned, Renedy has fond memories of his own encounters against the Central Asians in the 2007 and 2009 Nehru Cup, winning 3-0 and 2-1, respectively. But, of course, times have changed, and recent encounters between India and the Kyrgyz Republic have been close, which is exactly what Renedy expects next Tuesday, March 28, 2023.
“We beat them a couple of times, but that was 10-15 years ago. Now, they have worked hard and developed a lot. They will be a better team than Myanmar, and I hope we perform better than the first game, as we all have been expecting more.
“One thing’s for sure, the stadium will once again be fully packed,” he is quick to add.