In an Indian first, Rangers sign Bala Devi
When Rangers FC get down to business in the Scottish Women’s Premier League starting next month, a new No. 10 will bolster their line-up. Bala Devi, current top scorer for the Indian national team, will don that jersey.
The 29-year-old forward from Manipur joined an elite league of Indian footballers on Wednesday when she was signed on an 18-month contract by the premier Scottish club. She is the first Asian international footballer in the Glasgow-based team’s roster.
Bala is the first Indian woman to sign a professional contract with a European club, although Aditi Chauhan played seven matches for West Ham United Ladies (2015-2018). Among men, Bhaichung Bhutia (Bury FC, Perak FC and MK Land FC), Sunil Chhetri (Kansas City Wizards and Sporting Lisbon B) and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu (Stabaek FC) have played for foreign clubs.
Though Bala’s departure to Rangers FC from Manipur Police Sports Club is subject to international clearance, the Scottish side is excited about its new Indian recruit.
The No 10 role
“Bala is a playmaker who likes to play as a number 10 and we believe she will contribute goals and assists to the team. She will provide us with an attacking threat and a versatility that we can utilise to our benefit going into the 2020 season,” Amy McDonald, Women’s and Girls’ Football Manager, said.
Bala, who attended trials at Rangers in November, is thrilled. “To play my football in Europe with one of the biggest clubs in the world is something I could never have dreamed of,” she said in a statement. “I hope my move to Rangers serves as an example to all the women footballers back home in India who dream of taking up the sport professionally. I’m looking forward to making the most of the top-class facilities and coaching and I am certain I will benefit immensely from the standard of training and competition.
“I’m very grateful to Amy McDonald, the coaching staff and the entire management at Rangers for believing in me. Also, this move wouldn’t have been possible without Bengaluru FC, who have been instrumental throughout,” she added.
Since making her India debut in 2010, Bala has scored 52 times in 58 games. She has also been the national team captain.
At domestic level, Bala has over 100 goals in 120 games. She has been the top-scorer in the Indian Women’s League for the past two seasons. She was named All India Football Federation (AIFF) Women’s Player of the Year twice, in 2015 and 2016.
Last season, Rangers were losing semi-finalists in the Scottish Women’s Cup, beaten 1-4 by eventual winners Glasgow City. In the Scottish Women’s Premier League, also won by Glasgow City, Rangers finished fourth with 34 points from 21 matches.
Rangers FC and Celtic go into the 2020 season as the first Scottish Women’s Premier League teams to turn professional.
One of six foreigners
Bala is one of the six new international signings by Rangers ahead of the new season. Northern Ireland’s Demi Vance and Megan Bell along with Canadian-born Venezuelan Sonia O’Neill have been signed to bolster the midfield. French defenders Lisa Martinez and Daina Bourma are the other foreign recruits.
“Her move can be inspirational for players everywhere to show them where football can take them and what it can help them achieve,” McDonald said.
Bengaluru FC, who announced a partnership with Rangers FC last year, were instrumental in Bala getting the call from the Scottish team.
“Once we knew that Bala had done more than enough to impress the coaching staff at the club during her trial stint in November, we were determined to help make the move happen in any way that we could. Bala’s signing with Rangers sets a very encouraging precedent for women footballers from India,” Mandar Tamhane, Bengaluru FC CEO, said.