Former national football player Potsangbam Renedy Singh says the youth of Manipur have ideas. Having completed their education outside, they want to return home and do something for the state. He says the state needs policymakers who can create an atmosphere where such ideas and drive are put into practice.
My roots are in Sekmai, 15km north of Imphal along one of India’s most troublesome highways – NH2. Sekmai is a football hub, but is today synonymous with a local brew called yu. Though this potent potion is brewed elsewhere in the Imphal Valley, many call the drink Sekmai probably because it is more easily available there.
Soccer was my intoxicant, and the game inebriated me enough to be chosen for Tata Football Academy in Jamshedpur when I was 11 years old. The academy took care of my studies besides honing my footballing skills.
After six years with the academy, I joined East Bengal Club in Kolkata where I played for many years before moving to Mohun Bagan, JCT and other clubs. My performance as a midfielder in Kolkata club football earned me my senior international cap in 1998 when I was 19 years old.
I was considered India’s dead-ball specialist, and former teammate Sunil Chhetri thought I was the most underrated best midfielder in the country. My ability to cross the ball with both feet made me a regular in India’s football squad from 1998 to 2011, and a key member of the team that won the Nehru Cup International Football Tournament in 2007 and the AFC Challenge Cup the following year. Before that, I helped India win the 2002 LG Cup.
I became the first Indian to sign for a Bulgarian club – CSK Sofia on loan from Kerala Blasters – in 2015. I retired later that year to end my 19-year career as a footballer. I am currently the assistant coach for FC Pune City of Indian Super League, and as a member of Football Players’ Association of India, my responsibility is to visit remote rural areas across the country to spot soccer talents.
As I had been away from Manipur from an early age, and would occasionally come home for very short stints during my playing days, I could hardly feel the pain and inconvenience the people in my state go through because of blockades and political complications. With periodic coaching assignments, I have been spending more time in the last two years to understand that people in Manipur want to lead normal lives like Indians elsewhere. It is perhaps the only thing that we need, which in turn will take care of other issues.
It isn’t that Manipur has not progressed. Imphal has more high-end hotels and cafes today than before, there’s good vibes among the young generation. But there’s a mad rush for government jobs, so much so that people sell their paddy fields to become a police constable or a clerk in some government department. The youth have ideas; many aged 25-30 years, having completed their education outside, want to return home and do something for the state. We need policymakers who can create an atmosphere where such ideas and drive are put into practice.
(As told to Rahul Karmakar)