The Blue Tigers defender talks about defending with the ball, Indian football and much more.
Doha’s Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium erupts every time India enter the opponent’s half. India look sharp in recovering the ball from the Bangladeshi attackers and the No. 4 jersey amongst the back three steps up on each occasion to progress forward. In the scorching heat, Chinglensana “Sana” Singh looks cool as ever while on the ball.
“We like to keep the ball and to move and attack in a not-so-direct way, which I enjoy as a ball-playing defender,” Singh says regarding Igor Stimac’s approach in the Indian national team. “ I enjoy playing from the back – it’s very risky, but then if you have the ability why not?”
Well, he definitely seemed to enjoy India’s only victory in Group E. The Hyderabad FC defender hardly did anything wrong on the day. Whether it was a long pass towards the flank or a short pass into midfield, the centre-back looked inspired.
And for Chinglensana Singh, football has always been a medium to enjoy. As a boy growing up in football-engulfed Manipur, it was not difficult to fall in love with the game. From a very young age, he began bunking school, only to setup barefoot football matches with his friends.
It is astonishing to know that the thought of turning professional, for such an avid lover of the game, came relatively late in young Singh’s mind. Like every footballer from the region, he had difficulties that translated to his doubts over pursuing football. “Back in the day, it was very hard for players to convince their parents. Getting money and going to the practice session was very difficult. I travelled without tickets or with my pocket money on many occasions,” Singh reveals in an exclusive interview with Khel Now.
The first thought of turning football into a lifelong occupation only struck after he moved to Mumbai. It was Mahindra United Academy’s senior setup that made him realize the possibility of sustaining as a footballer. Successful steps in the academy saw Singh represent Air India’s U-15 and U-19 teams for less than a year. Ultimately, it was the Tata Football Academy who came knocking and he aced the trial to join in no time.
Singh considers this precise moment to be the dawn of his professional journey. “From there on it was a bit smooth because they (Mahindra United) took care of my education and everything, including football. For a youngster to have a shot at turning professional, the academy is one of the greatest platforms in India,” Sana praises the setup.
It was during his time at the Tata Football Academy that a young Chinglensana Singh got the chance to represent the academy in Sheffield. The defender trained with Sheffield United’s U-18 team for a month. His stay was shortened, as he had to come back to captain TFA’s side in the U-19 I-League.
It was after all these experiences that a young Sana Singh signed for Shillong Lajong. Singh calls his choice, despite having offers from East Bengal and Bharat FC, a step in the right direction. Competing in the I-League, Shillong built a reputation for developing a young and talented squad. Singh was a part of Thangboi Singto’s young lineup. Crediting Singto for playing rising talents, he considers Shillong to be the stepping stone of his career.
After an impressive display, then ISL outfit Delhi Dynamos laid their eyes on the talented defender. The youngster made 12 appearances in his loan spell with Delhi, alongside teammate Rupert Nongrum. A permanent move to the ISL came at the start of the 2017/18 season, as FC Goa picked the then 20-year-old.
However, Singh’s role was fairly limited at Goa, making only 19 appearances over three seasons in the side. When asked about his Goan spell, he says he would’ve “loved to play in that team full of experienced campaigners.”
“The two positions that I wanted to play on were occupied by two experienced foreign defenders in Mourtada Fall and Carlos Pena,” he remembers. “It was good training with quality players day in day out, the likes of (Ferran) Corominas. It made me more hungry, more focused with more determination to do better and to keep improving.”
Singh’s career had seen a similar instance previously when things turned south back in the U-16 days. “I wanted to get into India U-16s back in the day when I was attending the Maharashtra trial. After a month of trials, I was not selected on the final day,” he recollects. Singh relates this experience to his time at Goa. Both of these incidents made him bring the best out of himself, both on and off the pitch.
His determination, indeed, reaped fruits when Hyderabad FC came with a promising offer. Terming the project as an “interesting” one, Sana signed and quickly became a regular for Manolo Marquez. His secret to success, as always, to win the coach’s trust was to “give your best on the field.” And it seemed like that throughout the 2020/21 season, as Singh bossed the central defender’s role alongside Odei Onaindia.
On the back of an impressive season, Chinglensana Singh made his debut against Oman, as the Blue Tigers pulled off a heroic draw. Despite only making a few appearances so far, it is evident that he has a promising career ahead. With glimpses of making it far, sacrifices have continued to pay off for Singh. The sheer drive and motivation, as Sana says, comes as he strives to represent India.
“I want to continue playing for the country and I want to continue doing well with my club. This is something that keeps me driving every day – the day this ends, maybe I’ll hang up my boots,” he sums up the journey.