Was a street footballer, Bhaichung’s inputs helped: Jhingan
Sandesh Jhingan hasn’t taken long to settle in at ATK Mohun Bagan after six seasons at Kerala Blasters. A year out of action due to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear didn’t get him feeling downbeat, says Jhingan in this exclusive interview. Ahead of Wednesday’s game against FC Goa in the Indian Super League (ISL), the 27-year-old India central defender also spoke of his relationship with coach Antonio Lopez Habas and his career among other things.
How has it been working with Antonio Lopez Habas? And how did playing and winning your first Kolkata derby feel like?
Signing for ATK Mohun Bagan happened very, very quickly. I was speaking to other clubs as well, but then the talk which I had with the gaffer convinced me. Because he has seen me from the first season, he knows my game and knows where I can improve. Since I joined, I am learning a lot and getting better. They have kept the same squad, so there’s a lot of unity. Everyone’s been warm and friendly, so I have enjoyed here a lot.
For me, I love being part of big games (like the Kolkata derby). Not because I am a glory-seeker but I like games that are very intense, where expectations are very high. I like to be in stressed positions.
How difficult was it to come back from the long injury lay-off?
It’s a misconception about injuries and rehabs. I would be more upset if I had a neuro problem, or had a car crash and lost some organ, or if I had to pray for my next meal, or if I were homeless. There are more hard things in life. This injury is nothing compared to real hardship. I have always been fortunate in life. When this ACL (tear) happened, I felt bad about missing out on the World Cup qualifiers and I felt bad about my parents. But for me, I never had a dark moment.
Long before fame at Kerala Blasters, you got your first taste of professional football at United Sikkim. How was that experience like?
I was just happy to get a job back then, because I remember having to give trials for three coaches. I had gone there from Kolkata, where it didn’t work out. During the Durand Cup, I gave a two-day trial, they said no. They couldn’t see me properly. I was lean and my style then was very rash. Then Bhaichung (Bhutia) bhai randomly rang me and said they wanted to see more of me (in Sikkim). That was the turning point. I had to give trials for around one-and-a-half to two months. Finally, Bhaichung “bhai” – I always credit him – agreed (to sign me). Those inputs Bhaichung “bhai” gave me – very basic things like don’t let the ball drop – were massive because I never had an academy background; I was a street footballer.
After holding Asian champions Qatar goalless, do you think draws against Bangladesh and Afghanistan were missed opportunities for India?
It is what it is. The players who were part of those games will know better than me because I was sitting in the hospital then. One thing I am sure is that there will be no regrets among the boys or among the coaching staff in terms of the preparation, mentally and physically. You want to win but sometimes it doesn’t work out. This is a special batch of players in terms of quality and talent. There will be better days.