The striker talks about his return post injury, his love for Messi and Chhetri and about the change in his gameplay. Login with Facebook and leave your comment/message and we’ll get back to you. . . 

When DSK Shivajians took on the Mohun Bagan recently in the 10th round of I-league, a brilliant game of football ensued. The Shivajians took the lead with a well-measured pass from Jaun Quero, Milan Singh completing the move. Mohun Bagan was trailing 1-0, when a certain footballer rose from under the limelight and scored a brace, leading his side to victory. Ladies and Gentlemen, in comes Balwant Singh.

The Punjab lad was born in Hoshiarpur, Punjab on 15th December, 1986. In an exclusive interview with Khel Now, Balwant lets it all out from the beginning to the present. Let us first take a look at how Balwant took to the game.

“After my college and the 1st year at JCT Academy got over, I was offered a Government job at the BSF football team. Nobody really knows about this. I had also given a trial for the senior JCT side and had got through.”

Wasn’t the decision-bit confusing? “To be honest, being young, I was confused where to join. It was my brothers who strongly recommended JCT. I reckon it to be my turning point.” Football as a profession is a difficult preposition in India. With the advent of Indian Super League from 2014, a lot of money has been infused in the game.

Balwant Singh with his Man-of-the-Match award after the DSK Shivajians game

“I was good at playing the game and it was roughly during my school or college days when I thought of taking the game professionally. More than me, my two elder brothers believed in my abilities and knew that I would be a professional footballer. My principal also felt the same and these three people were the key to my taking up the game professionally. That’s when I joined JCT.” Balwant responds to the point when he decided to take football as a profession.

Balwant played for JCT from 2008 – 2011 under Sukhwinder Singh who guided and encouraged him. Balwant becomes a little nostalgic about that special, raw phase. “He shaped me as a player and I’m thankful to him for his constant support. It was sad that JCT relegated and I joined Salgaocar for the next two seasons from 2011 – 2013.”

The two seasons at Salgaocar helped Balwant grow as a football player. The team was strong and played well and after his contract got over, Balwant joined Churchill Brothers in 2013. “I joined Churchill Brothers in 2013. That was my best season and I can never forget those days. That was the year I won the FPAI Player of the Year award.”

Balwant Singh during his Churchill Brothers’ days

Churchill saw Balwant grow as a strong striker, who was a creator and a destructive No. 9. Running with the ball, taking on defenders and beating players with both dribbling and pace became his forte. Indian footballers take pride in playing in Kolkata Maidan and Balwant feels the same.

“I always had the wish to play in Kolkata and coach Subhashish Bhowmick encouraged me to come to Kolkata and since then, I’m here. To play under Sanjoy Sen has been really good. He’s a different coach altogether with fantastic techniques. He’s patient with us and knows how to handle pressure. He guides us and motivates us. I am thankful to him because he never ceased to believe in me,” says Balwant, who holds his current club coach in high regard.

Balwant was out of the action for an entire year with a threatening injury and feels more than happy coming back. “No football athlete would want to sit back. It’s always a good feeling getting back on the field and playing. Football for me is not just passion but my life.”

The video of Mohun Bagan physical trainer Djair Miranda Garcia embracing Balwant while he was crying after being subbed off in the first game went virat. Balwant had reportedly said that he could make his comeback so quick because of Garcia. We quipped him on this, and he responded with a smile, “I had recovered from my injury but imagining being out of the game for an year was painful. I needed my confidence and fitness back. That’s exactly where Garcia played a major role.”

Balwant Singh with Mohun Bagan trainer Djair Miranda Garcia

“Garcia made time for me and trained me, pushed me and encouraged me to work hard and better. I respect him truly as he does his work wholeheartedly without expecting anything in return. He’s a true genius and I will always be grateful to him.” One similar story of a player and physio being so close was World Cup winner and Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta.

Just before the 2010 World Cup, Andres Iniesta had lost his best friend Dani Jarque and was suffering from a major injury. Oscar Cedela, one of Spain’s national team doctors and Dani Medina, Barcelona’s team doctor, took it upon themselves to get the key player ready. The goal in the final was just an icing on the cake, and Iniesta is still very close to both Medina and Cedela. Emili Ricart, also played a key role.

Coming back to Balwant, he’s had a fairly successful career till date. We asked him about his best career moment till date, and Balwant responded, “To be honest, there are many. Representing my country will always stand first, followed by my time at Churchill Brothers. Becoming the first Indian to score in the ISL is also a special moment.”

Balwant scored for Chennaiyin FC against FC Goa at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Margao, hitting the opening goal in a 2-1 victory. Since then, Balwant has come a long way. We’ve seen him play closer to the opposition box, slowly turning into being a poacher or a box-presence from the running-at-defender kind of striker. Balwant corrects us, saying, “There’s no reason as such (for the change). You do what you’re asked to do.”

Balwant after becoming the first Indian scorer in the ISL against FC Goa

Kolkata football is known to take a lot from the professionals. As much as it turns you into a superstar overnight, it can also curb your freedom and pressurize you to do better. We asked for Balwant’s take on this, “No, not at all. To have such supportive crowds is what makes a player give more to the team and its supporters.”

Injuries can be a make or break for several players, both on national and international shores. Brazilian forward Kaka was never the same player again, after returning from an injury lay-off. Balwant reacted, “The injury did change me as a person. It has made me stronger, has taught me to fight my own battles. It also taught me to never give up and helped me to come back stronger than before.”

Indian football has seen a lot of change over the last 5-6 years and Balwant has been a part of it. Talking about the evolving picture, Balwant says, “Over the last few years, the game (Football) has developed a lot in India. The game is a lot more challenging now. It is good to see grass-root programs for budding footballers and academies that help in developing young talent by exposing them to football at young age.”

Easy pickings when we asked him about his favorite footballers both in India and abroad. “(Lionel) Messi and (Sunil) Chhetri”, answers Balwant, without any wait. On the I-league – ISL merger, Balwant has a completely world-like overview. “The merger could help as we could have more teams in one single league. This would give the Indian Team enough time on the calendar to play more international matches and gain FIFA ranking.”

To be fair, Mohun Bagan has not really missed Balwant’s services this season in the league, comfortably scoring 15 goals in 9 games and is undefeated in the league. Talking about his side, Balwant said, “We’ve played two consecutive seasons in the same manner under coach Sanjoy Sen. We have a very strong squad and play as a team and that is where our strength lies.”

Balwant has a lot of belief in Sanjoy Sen’s coaching abilities. At a phase when he’s not starting enough games, Balwant says, “To be honest, our coach knows best for his team. He has been supportive throughout and whatever is his plan, I, as a player under him, shall abide. After all, football is a team sport over individuality.”

Mohun Bagan and East Bengal are arch-rivals and that’s one of the easily known fact for every Indian. As both Kolkata giants adore the top two (currently) of the I-league table, we ask Balwant of his thoughts on the drab Kolkata derby and the league season. The 5 ft 11 inch striker quips, “I think it will be Mohun Bagan again (to the title). Fairly speaking and let’s put it this way, both teams gave in their best and fought for the entire match to get the three points.”

How long do we see Balwant plying his trade at the top level? Balwant wishes to do what every other footballer wants to; PLAY! “I don’t know what the future has in store but I’m definite that as long as I can, I will keep playing.” Indian football has broken a lot of new barriers in recent years and the U-17 World Cup later this year will be a new high. Balwant forwards his wishes to the lads through KhelNow.

“To the U-17 team, I would only like to say, give it your best shot because every second counts. Believe in yourself that you’re winners and so it will be (that way)!! We are all proud of Team India and we all love you no matter what.”

Balwant Singh playing for the India U-23 team

Balwant, who’s known to be fire-bred and has always been a fighter,wishes the same for the Indian football fans. The striker says, “Don’t let the fire within you die, ever. Let’s support Indian football in a positive manner. We, as sportsmen, need your love and support. Our victories will mean nothing without you.”