The club’s CEO also opened up on the reasons why they signed the centre-back.

Sandesh Jhingan, 28, recently became the first Indian player to sign up for a club in the Prva NHL, Croatia’s top-tier league. The former Kerala Blasters and ATK Mohun Bagan defender signed a one-year deal with HNK Sibenik, with an option to extend by another year if needed.

The signing was officially confirmed on Wednesday, August 18. A day later, both Jhingan and HNK Sibenik CEO Eduardo Zapata spoke to Indian media at a press conference. “We are glad to have you all here. This attention is really important and we are really glad that you have an interest in our club. We are excited about Sandesh coming here. We were expecting to seal this deal. I myself am a Colombian in Croatia. We are open to all kinds of experiences. We want to be a Croatian international club and this is a great step towards it,” Zapata began.

“Most importantly we bought Sandesh Jhingan because we needed someone in this position. We believe he is a great player and he can develop good things for our club. He is a captain and leader, especially for young players. Though we have leaders already, Sandesh can help us here as well since he’s experienced. It is also good for players to have such international multicultural embodiment within the squad. We are very happy about this,” he added.

On India-Croatia ties

“Anything that you need in the future from our club and we are open for it. I hope this transfer also helps us have some collaboration with India (in future) as this will help Indians know more about Croatia and vice versa. This is a win-win situation,” Zapata said, before adding: “Hope he [Sandesh Jhingan] adapts and helps us win in every game. I’m very happy about his personality. He’s a mature person and very happy to be here.”

On the experience of signing Jhingan

Zapata was also asked about the entire process of bringing in Jhingan and about how the club scouted a player from India; a rare phenomenon.

To this, he responded, “Every season, at this time of the year we are listening to offers and making our team. We have a good relationship with an agency in Madrid. They offer us players for the positions we need. In this case, we asked for a defensive stopper and they sent us a profile. We have a team that analyzes how players perform and we have a coach, who used to play in Barcelona. He knows about Indian football and we, therefore get good recommendations about players.”

Watch: Sandesh Jhingan speaks after officially joining HNK Sibenik

“Your national team coach [Igor Stimac] told us very good things about him. We saw this opportunity and we are a club open for everything. I don’t care if he’s from India or Argentina. What’s important is that he’s good. We all mutually agreed that he’s a good player and our coach who makes the final decision agreed. This is how it happens.”

Sandesh’s defensive experience and the reason for his signing

“The desire and the opportunity just came right now and I wish it would have come later or before but it just came right now. I had to take the decision. And the idea now, is to take a new challenge in my career,” Sandesh Jhingan said, when asked about the reason behind parting ways with ATK Mohun Bagan, who were getting ready for AFC Cup 2021.

“If you know anyone, who had met me and spoken to me and understands me, they will always tell you that I’m a person who never went after money. I have always chosen glory over gold. So that’s always been my decision-making process. Money is of course important. However, I just felt this was what I needed,” he explained, before adding: “I’m a kid who’s running to achieve his full potential and whenever I feel that this step will help me achieve my full potential.”

ATK Mohun Bagan’s support

The 28-year-old thanked his former club for supporting him throughout his journey over the past year, having signed for them following an injury lay-off.

“It was difficult, because I have lots of love and respect for the coaching staff, players and the owners because after my injury, I was out for 13 months and I saw a lot of people change their opinion about me. That was quite surprising and revealing but as Mohun Bagan showed so much love and respect, and faith in me, and they helped me have such a great season. And I genuinely, genuinely enjoyed every second,” he said.

Moving at the right time

When asked about why the move did not happen earlier, Jhingan explained that he had responsibilities when the chance came up previously. “It was my personal desire to move to Europe and I’m not going to sit here and say every young kid like you should move to Europe. Everyone has their own vision. I didn’t do that when I was in my 20s because I had responsibilities.”

“I had different things to do back then. So it’s a personal choice for everyone, whatever is right for your career, for your family. Everyone has different sensibilities, you know life is not easy. So whenever you think is the right time you should move. For me, it’s just another job. Of course, it’s in Europe, so I had the desire but not sure everyone has it or not, you know, someone might have different things,” Sandesh Jhingan concluded.

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