The 24-year-old had an underwhelming season with few goal contributions.
In the 90th minute against Myanmar at the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon in March 2017, India were heading for a draw and a solitary point that could belie their ability and belittle their chances to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup 2019. Two passes on, India’s No. 15 Udanta Singh was running in full throttle towards Myanmar’s box, having come off the bench for Jackichand Singh.
The move ended with the ball in the back of the net and three points in India’s bag, helped by some smooth placement by the perennial Sunil Chhetri. The winger played another important role in India’s 2-0 win against Macau, helping in another crucial three points for the Blue Tigers on course to the continental championship. He was, justly, on the plane to the UAE.
On that flight, Udanta Singh was India’s primary hope for creativity down the right. In the first game, the Blue Tigers outclassed Thailand in a 4-1 victory, with the winger collecting two assists. Asia suddenly sat up and took notice. The next two games were sad defeats and the Tigers returned with an unfulfilled dream.
Udanta has always been a prodigal talent. He became a star on the circuit when he scored nine goals in just four matches to help Tata Football Academy win the 2014 I-League U-19 title, showcasing his raw speed, athleticism as well as goalscoring prowess. He was subsequently signed by Bengaluru FC and continues to ply his trade for the JSW side. His wavy runs are a joyride, but better final passes have been bereft lately.
Two years since that brilliant outing against Thailand, the Indian national team has been selected for friendlies against Oman and the UAE and the 24-year-old’s name does not appear on the roster. The decline of the once blue-eyed boy of Indian football has not been immediate – let’s just look at statistics to discern this.
In 2017-18, the right-footed winger had three goals and six assists while a season later, he had delivered five goals and three assists. However, last season, Udanta got a lone assist in 22 outings and in the recently-concluded edition of the ISL, he played 17 times for a goal and an assist.
The drop from the national team roster should be a stark wake-up call for someone like him, who still has a lot to contribute to Indian football. Udanta Singh plays for a club that has constantly helped the development of Indian players, but the current scenario is worrisome. His poor form has coincided with Bengaluru’s own lull, as the club failed to reach the knockout stages of the ISL this season. Something needs to change.
Training methodologies, re-invented challenges, a new environment – anything that helps this super-fast and brilliant winger. While he works on his redemption to the boundaries he set, we wish he works a little more on his shooting as well. All of this has to happen soon, as India gear up to qualify for another Asian dream in 2023.