Bembem Devi: Hero U-17 Women’s Championship will help bring talented girls into focus

For almost two decades, Oinam Bembem Devi has been the flagbearer of women's football in India. The Arjuna Awardee may have retired from professional football back in 2016, but her watch is far from over. Despite hanging up her boots, Indian football's 'Durga' has been closely associated with the drive to help women's football grow in the country. With the FIFA U17 Women's World Cup set to be held in India next year, the inspirational icon is expected to play a major role in preparing the youngsters for the global showpiece. Her more immediate role, however, is in the Hero U-17 Women's Championship - a preparatory tournament organised by the FSDL with the aegis of the AIFF to aid in the team selection for the World Cup. The competitive event will also help the potential future stars get some much-needed game time and exposure ahead of the main event in 2020.

Bembem Devi, who is coaching the Cheetahs - one of the four participating teams in the Hero U-17 Women's Championship, in a latest interview, illustrated her take on India hosting the World Cup and stated, "The World Cup happening in India is a huge event for women’s football. Our national team is already performing so well. With the focus on the youth system now, we can only expect the senior team to get even better in the future."

Laying out the importance of a competitive tournament like the Hero U-17 Women's Championship heading into 2020's big international assignment, the former India international opined, "We have just about a year to go till the World Cup and the Hero U-17 Women’s Championship could help bring into focus, a number of talented girls. This will only help the India U-17 team that will play in the World Cup, as it could help the coach have a bigger pool of players to pick from. Competition for places is always a great motivator for the players to improve themselves."

"Of course, such initiatives are great for the girls who want to play football at the top level when they grow up. Over the last few years, women’s football in India has improved by leaps and bounds. We now have a professional league that has already supplied the National Team with so many players. On top of that, we now have a tournament where the younger girls can showcase their talent. It really helps to spot the talented players and groom them for the future," she added.

With the Hero U-17 Women's Championship being broadcast in multiple languages throughout the country, Bembem Devi also speculated that the exposure of playing with the nation's eyes on them could provide the players with the much-needed experience of dealing with pressure and play a crucial role in preparing them mentally for the World Cup in one year's time. "Well, one big thing is that the entire country’s eyes will be on the girls. The fact that the Hero U-17 Women’s Championship will be telecasted is a huge thing in itself for these girls. It will give them a taste of what is to come in a year’s time."

"Playing under pressure is a part and parcel of the beautiful game. Of course, we must remember that these are but teenage kids. But this will give them a good opportunity to get used to the limelight," she further explained.

Speaking about what it means for her personally to be a part of the grand venture, Bembem Devi noted, "It is a great privilege and an honour to be involved in the process, and to be able to coach some of the players who may be the first-ever Indian female players to participate in any World Cup."

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