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Bala Devi, Sandesh Jhingan win AIFF Footballer of the Year awards

Bala Devi and Sandesh Jhingan won the women’s and men’s AIFF Player of the Year awards, while Manisha Kalyan and Suresh Wangjam won the Emerging Player of the year awards in the two categories.

It was the third time that Bala Devi has won the award but for Jhingan it was the first time after being adjudged the Emerging Player of the Year Award in 2014.

“I’d also like to thank my coaches – both at my club in Rangers, and in the national team, and also and all the coaches that I’ve played under in the past,” Bala Devi said.

“A big thank you also to my family and all my teammates for all the support.”

“I arrived in Scotland last year, just before the global lockdown had started, and acclimatising to any new place in such conditions has been extremely difficult.

“But with their help, I have been able to focus on the things that are most important, and keep myself in top shape, both mentally and physically,” she added.

Currently playing for Rangers FC in Scotland, Bala made her debut for the team in February last year and created history as she scored her first competitive goal for them in December.

She remains the first Indian woman footballer to sign a professional contract in Europe.

The men’s award winners were chosen on the basis of votes from the Indian Super League and I-League club coaches.

“I take this award as a motivation to do better, and inspire others to follow their passion for the sport. This Award comes with a huge responsibility – not to let anyone down,” Jhinghan said.

Jhingan made his senior national team debut in 2015 in Guwahati and has since gone on to make 40 appearances for the Blue Tigers, scoring four goals.

He was part of the Indian sides that lifted the Intercontinental Cup in 2018 and played out a memorable draw at the home of the Asian champions Qatar in 2019.

Jhingan has captained the senior team on five occasions, the most recent being the international friendly against Oman in Dubai in March. He was conferred with the prestigious Arjuna Award last year.

The 20-year-old Suresh, who made his Blue Tigers debut earlier this year against Oman, was part of the Indian side that competed at the Fifa U-17 World Cup in 2017.

A former AIFF Academy cadet, Suresh had spent two seasons with AIFF’s developmental side Indian Arrows in the I-League. Known for his stamina and box-to-box play, the midfielder has notched up five senior national team caps and started all three of India’s games at the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers in Doha in June.

Indian football: Meet Suresh Singh Wangjam, a tireless young midfielder making a big impact

Like Suresh, the 19-year-old Manisha, who is also a forward, won the award for the first time.

She said: “This award motivates me to push further to work harder for my team and achieve our goals.”

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the staff of the National team who taught me and made me capable enough for this award. I would further extend my gratitude to my teammates without whom the award couldn’t have been possible. My family, my coaches, teachers – a big thank you to all.”

A former India U-17 and U-19 international, Manisha made her senior national team debut against Hong Kong in 2019 and since then, she has gone on from strength to strength.

She also received the Emerging Player of the Tournament Award at the 2019-’20 Indian Women’s League, where she played a key role in Gokulam Kerala FC’s run to the title.

Both the women’s winners were chosen by the national team head coach Maymol Rocky in consultation with All India Football Federation’s interim technical director Savio Medeira.

Meanwhile, the AIFF Award for the best referee went to Tejas Nagvenkar while Sumanta Dutta was adjudged the best assistant referee.

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