The 26-year-old forward will represent the Uzbek club in three competitions.

Dangmei Grace scripted history after becoming just the third Indian women’s footballer to sign a professional contract with an overseas club. The 26-year-old has joined Uzbekistan club FC Nasaf and is likely to make her debut later this month.

Her electric runs and elegant dribbling caught the attention of many during the first AFC Women’s Club Championship last year in Jordan. The best of her performances came against FC Bunyodkor in a 3-1 victory. The fact that she was chosen for bigger roles should not have come as a surprise.

However Grace was surprised, when she was told that a high-ranking official from Uzbekistan wanted to speak with her during the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in Mumbai earlier this year.

“When they first called, I was shocked, wondering how they acknowledged me,” Grace told TOI. She is only the third Indian woman after Bala Devi and Aditi Chauhan to sign a contract with a foreign club.

Nasaf had hoped that Grace would join them much earlier. However, the forward was under contract with Gokulam Kerala FC and had committed to competing in the Indian Women’s League (IWL). GFC went on to lift the IWL title twice in a row.

“It’s the first step for me and this experience of playing abroad will help me a great deal. It’s challenging, but I am really excited. I need to adapt to their football culture.”

“Moving to Uzbekistan is a small step and brings me closer to achieving my dream” said Grace. “My family has supported me all along. For me, this is a great gift to give them. They’ve always backed me wholeheartedly. My mom, dad, and everyone else is very happy with this move,” she added.

As with Bala Devi, who became the first Indian woman to play professional football in Europe when she joined Rangers 2020, Grace dreams about moving to a top European league.

“In the future, I want to move to Europe. This is a stepping stone to what I want to achieve,” she said.

As someone with quick feet and good dribbling skills, Grace can play in multiple forward positions. It was with Imphal-based club KRYPHSA FC that she began her IWL career before moving on to Sethu FC. She joined Gokulam Kerala from there. Dangmei Grace has won the IWL title with both clubs.

It was back in 2013 that the 26-year-old made her debut for the national team. She has since become an integral part of both the club and the country. She was named the ‘AIFF Emerging Player of the Year’ in 2019.

Grace will compete for Nasaf in three competitions, said A Yusupov, general director at Nasaf. The Uzbekistan Women’s Super League, which began last month, the Uzbekistan Cup, a knockout competition, and the Uzbekistan Super Cup.

“This league will give her a lot of international experience and help in her footballing development and career,” said Yusupov.

For more football updates, follow Khel Now on TwitterInstagram and join our community on Telegram.