These players have set an example for the young girls in the country to take up the sport.
Women’s football has seen a significant rise in popularity across the world in the past few years. Many inspirational women have taken the sport by storm and are rubbing shoulders with their male counterparts. Pernille Harder, Ada Hegerberg, Marta da Silva Vieira, Megan Rapinoe and several others have been the pioneers of women’s football in the world.
Similarly, in India, there have been many women athletes who have defied all odds and taken to football to showcase their talent. These players, among others, have taken Indian women’s football forward with their exceptional qualities.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the top-five modern day stars in Indian women’s football:
5. Sasmita Malik
Coming from Kendrapara district of Odisha, Sasmita Malik’s journey in football saw several obstacles. However, she worked her way past each of them and went on to establish herself as a regular in the Indian women’s football team.
At 17, Malik made her national team debut and there was no stopping her. In over a decade of playing for the Blue Tigresses, she captained the side to many important victories. She was also part of India’s squad in their consecutive SAFF Women’s Championship wins. In 2016, Sasmita Malik was adjudged the AIFF Women’s Player of the Year for her marvellous displays on pitch.
4. Aditi Chauhan
Aditi Chauhan’s journey in football has been nothing less than inspirational. She has excelled not just on the pitch, but also earned accolades off it. Starting her journey as a youth player in Delhi, Chauhan rose up the ranks and established herself as the No. 1 of the Indian women’s national team.
She went on to pursue an MSc in Sports Management at Loughborough University in England and was simultaneously selected to play for West Ham Ladies – becoming the first Asian woman to play competitively in England. After spending two seasons with the Hammers, she returned to India and led Gokulam Kerala to the Indian Women’s League (IWL) title in the 2019-20 season.
Chauhan was also part of India’s SAFF Championship winning squads in 2016 and 2019. In April 2021, it was announced that the custodian will join Icelandic club Hamar Hveragerdi. Thus, she is not just a top goalkeeper but also serves as in idol to many young girls in the country.
3. Loitongbam Ashalata Devi
The current skipper of the Indian women’s football team, Ashalata Devi is a four-time winner of the SAFF Women’s Championship and a two-time winner of the South Asian Games. Playing for Sethu FC in the Indian Women’s League, Ashalata Devi also led them to the title in the 2018-19 season. She was also awarded the AIFF Women’s Player of the Year that season.
Selected for the U-17 national team at the age of 15, Ashalata Devi’s dreams knew no bounds and she quickly went on to make a case for the senior team. Over the years, she has been a dominant figure in the team and at domestic level. She now hopes to fulfill her dream of playing abroad. Moreover, the defender will be a key player for the Blue Tigresses in the upcoming 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup.
2. Ngangom Bala Devi
In 2019, when Bala Devi historically signed a professional contract with Scottish club Rangers, she set an example for many young players in India. Coming from Manipur, Bala Devi’s journey began with the Northeastern state’s U-19 team. After winning the ‘best player’ accolades consistently at age-group level championships, the striker went on to represent the Manipur state senior team. She helped them clinch the Indian Women’s Football Championship in 2014 after scoring a whopping 29 goals in seven games. The two-time AIFF Player of the Year went on to become a national team regular.
Few months after joining Rangers, Bala Devi scripted history again after scoring a goal in the Scottish Championship, thereby becoming the first Indian woman to do so. The 30-year-old has been influential in creating awareness for the game in the country and many young girls now dream of following in her footsteps.
1. Oinam Bembem Devi
Padma Shri and Arjuna award winner Bembem Devi holds the status of a legend in Indian women’s football. The former national team skipper has had a tremendous contribution in the development of the sport in the country.
Bembem Devi was called up for the senior national team at a very young age of 15 in 1995 and eight years later she went on to become the captain of the side. In a national team career that spanned more than 15 years, the midfielder helped India earn the status of heavyweights in women’s football in Asia. She led the Blue Tigresses to three SAF Cup titles and two South Asian Games gold medals.
Most recently, Bembem Devi coached Eastern Sporting Union to the final of the IWL in 2018. In the following year, she also coached Cheetahs in the U-17 Women’s Championship held in West Bengal in 2019. The two-time AIFF Player of the Year has been a pioneer in Indian football and continues to promote the sport in the country.