“Excited” Dangmei Grace joins Uzbekistan’s FC Nasaf on six-month deal
The club first approached me in January, says the India forward.
Dangmei Grace’s joining FC Nasaf Qarshi in Uzbekistan on a six-month deal was six months in the making. Grace is the third Indian woman player, after goalkeeper Aditi Chauhan and forward Bala Devi, to get a professional contract outside south Asia. Midfielder Bembem Devi, an inspiration for Grace, played a season in the Maldives.
Nasaf had wanted the India player in January. “But I was on a contract with Gokulam Kerala,” said Grace over phone from Imphal on Saturday. Nasaf were prepared to wait till the Indian Women’s League (IWL), which Gokulam Kerala FC (GKFC) won at a canter, ended, she said.
“I first heard from them when we were in Mumbai for the Asian championships. I wasn’t sure so I told them I would need time to think,” said the 26-year-old who can play in a range of positions in midfield and attack.
Grace said the club reached out to her through India team manager Hilda Gurung, who is now in Norway with the national under-17 side.
The Uzbekistan Women’s Super League team then got in touch with GKFC who offered Grace on loan but the club didn’t agree. “So, we said we would release her after IWL,” said Kevin Kishore, GKFC’s media manager. It was her performance in the 3-1 win against Uzbekistan’s Bunoydkor in the AFC Women’s Club Championship in Jordan last November that got Grace noticed, said Kishore. The first Indian team to play in Asia’s apex club competition, GKFC finished third with Grace getting two assists.
She will leave Imphal on Sunday and reach Tashkent on Monday. “Like with every player, it was a dream to play abroad, a dream that is about to be realised now. I am very excited,” she said. So is her family which has been supportive of her wish to make a career out of football ever since Grace started playing with her brothers.
The 11-team IWL ended in May with GKFC retaining the title with an all-win record. Barring national team engagements, a short state league or the odd competition for employers–Grace works in Manipur’s youth and sports department–that is pretty much it for Indian footballers.
So how ready is she? “I have not spoken to the head coach yet but I am guessing Nasaf’s style will be different from what we had at GKFC. Fitting in would be my first priority,” said Grace who scored four goals in the 2021-22 IWL.
Grace will play in the league, the Uzbekistan Cup and the Uzbekistan Super Cup, according to a letter from Nasaf to her employers, says PTI. Nasaf didn’t have a women’s team so they have taken over the club Sevinch Women, also from Qarshi in southern Uzbekistan, approximately 450km from Tashkent.
A fan of USA forward Megan Rapinoe, Grace has been an international since 2013. Her football journey began in high school and in 2016 she joined Imphal’s KRYPHSA FC, a club that often uses crowd-funding and has been the starting point for internationals such as Grace’s current India teammate Ashalata Devi, Sweety Devi and Maibam Devi. Grace moved to Sethu FC in 2018-19 before switching to GKFC last term.
“She was outstanding, playing every minute of the IWL. Her versatility and flexibility make Grace a coach’s favourite,” said GKFC coach Anthony Andrews. “I used her as a No 8, No 10 and sometimes No 9 when we played two attackers. She can also play No 7 or No 11. Not just that, she has the ability to take everyone together as we saw in the AFC Women’s Club Championship. I am sure she will make us proud.”
Asked if she would return to GKFC next season, Grace said she hadn’t thought that far. “Maybe I would continue playing abroad.”