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Sandesh Jhingan: I'll put my head in front of a train for the club I play

Published at :February 9, 2023 at 10:02 PM
Modified at :February 14, 2023 at 12:39 AM
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Sathvik Bharadwaj

Few Indian footballers exude grit and passion on the football pitch more than Bengaluru FC centre-back Sandesh Jhingan. The 29-year-old was the winner of the inaugural ISL Emerging Player of the Season. He was loaned to I-League clubs Sporting Goa, DSK Shivajians and Bengaluru FC during the ISL off-season. After representing Kerala Blasters for five seasons, an ACL injury resulted in Jhingan missing the entirety of the 2019-20 season.

He moved to ATK Mohun Bagan, where he partnered Tiri in the centre of defence and posted 10 clean sheets throughout 2020-21, winning the AIFF Player of the Year award. A clause in his contract allowed Jhingan to move abroad if a club came calling, and Croatian club HNK Sibenik activated that clause to sign him on a one-year deal. An untimely calf injury saw Sandesh not play a single minute in Croatia and he returned to ATK Mohun Bagan to play the remainder of the 2021-22 season.

Bengaluru FC snapped up the free agent this season, and he has been a vital cog in the centre of defence for the Blues. In an exclusive chat with Khel Now, Jhingan opened up about BFC’s turnaround, the growth of the ISL and his national team goals.

Contrasting team performances throughout the season

Bengaluru FC beat Mumbai City FC 2-1 in the Durand Cup final and became the first ISL club to win every major championship trophy: I-League, ISL, Super Cup and Durand Cup. Despite a successful pre-season, Bengaluru FC struggled in the Indian Super League, but have turned things around since the new year with five wins on the trot. When asked about what changed in the team’s mentality, Jhingan answered, “Confidence levels after a pre-season trophy win in any team will be high, having started the season by winning the Durand Cup.

"In football, every team has ups and downs, but one of the things I admire the most about the team is the mentality of the squad. It’s knowing our own potential, how good we can be and training with the right attitude. We stick to that and even when we were losing the games, whoever understands football can see that we were not losing them with huge margins.

Sandesh Jhingan taking on East Bengal's Cleiton Silva. (Courtesy: ISL Media)

“A small individual error here and there was costing us points. We never lacked intensity in training. Eventually, the good work we keep putting in every day will help in the results. We know how we got this confidence; we will continue to stay humble as it is a tough task to get into the playoffs with some good teams. We just got to believe in ourselves and follow the same processes and hopefully, we make it.”

Role of senior players in BFC’s turnaround

With six teams qualifying for the ISL playoffs from the 2022-23 season, Bengaluru FC have brought themselves back into the playoffs conversation. They are one point ahead of Odisha and occupy sixth place (currently). The Blues have the momentum heading into the final rounds.

On asked how the senior members of the squad motivated the youngsters through a difficult slump, Jhingan said, “The best saying is to lead by example. This team is full of good examples. I don't have enough words to describe the leadership qualities of Sunil bhai, Roy Krishna bhai and even the younger boys such as Roshan, and Bhutia. What I love about these 23–24 year-olds is that they are so mature and level-headed. They know the right things to do, and the right food to eat. They don’t throw in the towel when we are losing the game.

"Small disciplines are intact. We didn’t change anything, just tried to improve every step of the way and that makes our job easy. And then it’s about how you are as a person and a character on and off the pitch. You don’t even realise but people feed off it. I hope we senior players and as a team have done well to give off the right attitude and energy.”

Message for the fans

Bengaluru FC end the season with three home matches in a row and will hope to feed off the Fortress’ energy. Sandesh Jhingan sends a message to the Bengaluru FC fans, “I have played here both as a member of the club and as an opponent. This place has a certain special energy and vibe and it is all credit to the fans. Even in the national team, the atmosphere here at the Kanteerava was something you remember for a very long time. Thanks for sticking by us when the days were dark, when the times are tough - that is when you need support.

"We as players felt it, especially when the fans used to come and travel. Even in Jamshedpur and NorthEast, they came to support us. No matter how tough the run is, there are people that will believe in you. We will do our best and I will put my head in front of a train for the club and for the fans wherever I play. It’s about giving something back these last five games. Let’s make it a memorable run.”

The growth of the ISL

Sandesh Jhingan after the win against ATK Mohun Bagan. (Courtesy: ISL Media)

Jhingan has been a regular feature of the Indian Super League since the first season and has witnessed the league undergo different layers of transformation. He measured the growth of the league as a player. He stated, “Because there are so many aspects to how you measure the growth, as a player I don’t have the wider vision of it. In the simplest way, what was the national team ranking before the ISL came and nine years down the line. When I made my debut in 2015, I think we were 175 and in the past nine years we have gone under hundred.

He added, "We have qualified twice to the Asian Cup and also the U17s, U14s, U13s, the women, the girls everyone are doing so well. That’s how I measure success. If your country is doing well, then your league is doing well.”

The dark times in Croatia

Jhingan secured a move to Croatian side HNK Sibenik, but a calf tear saw him fail to play a single minute of football for the club. He returned to India and joined ATK Mohun Bagan after recovering, but only had himself to blame for his stint overseas. “It was tough, of course. I just had a brilliant season with ATK Mohun Bagan, we missed out on the title to a very good side. The ending of the season was pretty painful. And then when this thing came up, I was excited, and I went there."

"Sometimes, if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. I’ll take most of the blame for whatever happened there. I had a calf tear, an injury that could have been healed in one and a half-two months with proper rehab and rest. I was still 27 when I went there and I couldn’t keep that patience in me and was in a hurry. Instead of blaming others, I will take the blame because at the end it was my decision.”

Jhingan added, “The family thing as well, you realise that football is of course the most important thing in your life. When something comes to your family, you realise that all the problems in the football world are so small. I respect my wife and family, we stuck together. In those moments, football is the least important. Whatever god gives, god gives and life goes on. When it was going tough there, I came back home and that was the right choice. It was not a great welcome, but life goes on. I’m just a human being. We all go through different patches in life, but I have always believed that everything happens for good.”

Goals with the national team

Sandesh Jhingan during the AFC Asian Cup 2019.

With the AFC Asian Cup scheduled to take place, the Indian National Football team has a busy 2023. Jhingan outlined his plans for the Blue Tigers. “As a group we want to do better than the last time. We were close to coming out of the group and qualify for the knockout stages, but we missed out with few seconds. Our target is to do better.”

Integration of Sports Science in the national team’s age-group levels

Ahmedabad-based company TransStadia will help in integrating sports science with the training analysis for the under-17 team. Jhingan sees this development as a positive one for the progression of Indian football, “If you don’t try, you’ll never know. Sport science is a big part of football already. The margin of error is so small, everybody wants to tick all the boxes on matchday. It’s great to see and it is important what TransStadia is great. They are investing in sports and for sure it’s going to help. It’s good that them kids are getting exposed to such things and will help them get better.”