North-East boys power young India

Renedy Singh says the players should enjoy the challenge

North-East boys power young India
North-Eastern flavour, unsurprisingly, runs prominently in the Indian under-17 team for the World Cup.

In a country obsessed with cricket, football has found an undivided love from the states of North-East. It has thrived too. Renedy Singh, one of the leading icons from the region, could not be happier. The former India captain hoped the journey of this under-17 team would inspire other juniors to follow in their footsteps.

In the World Cup squad of 21, India have eight players from Manipur and one each from Sikkim and Mizoram.

“I guess that is how we are!,” Renedy told DH. “Football appeals to us more than any other sport. There is hardly any craze for cricket. Our physical structure is also well suited to football. The region has been contributing to football since the 1990s, but in the last 5-6 years, it has gone down a bit. With this under-17 team, things are looking up again.”

Many football lovers in the capital will love to narrate the way North-Eastern Festival is celebrated at the Ambedkar stadium, situated adjacent to the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium. The only sport to feature in the festival is football and no amount of ecstasy surrounding cricket can drown the euphoric din from the neighbouring arena!

Mention it to Renedy and he lets out a laugh before adding. “Yes that is there, but then you know Manipur needs to be more organised because it is obvious we have a lot of talent.”

More than just a game

The former Indian international was also instrumental in ensuring the parents of these Manipuri boys can travel to Delhi to see them in action. “We all come from humble backgrounds. I am glad I could help,” he said.

Renedy, who was once part of the India under-19 team, was clear the team needs to be together even after the World Cup. “The bigger question which now faces them is what happens once these three matches are over. Some of them will move out to clubs, some will stay back, but I feel it will be good if we keep this team together for at least 2-3 years. At our time, with due respect to all coaches, we got someone like Bob Houghton very late. We have got a very good coach in Luis Norton De Matos and we have to give him a longer run and not just six months.”

“The way we played in the friendlies, if we can build on that, we can begin to make an impact beyond South-East Asia, where we have been doing well. For now, these boys should enjoy the challenge of competing against the best in their age group. Also, we need to remember that they are playing the tournament for the first time. So we should not be critical of them or coach if they lose.”

Renedy said the team in the World Cup needs to stick to the tactical plan of the coach. “And of course they should play like they won’t get another match. They could have played more competitive matches but they have prepared well. It is now up to them what they make of the opportunity”.

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