Manjappada ‘family’, beard or hair, recovery; Jhingan gets candid

Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20 was one to forget for Kerala Blasters FC ace Sandesh Jhingan as an injury kept him on the sidelines for the entirety of the season. The 26-year-old was eyeing a potential comeback with the Indian national team in March with the World Cup Qualifiers, but with the world and all sporting activities on hold due to the ongoing novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the wait continues.

With the nation-wide lockdown in effect as a precautionary measure against the spread of the virus, Jhingan joined Anant Tyagi virtually for the first edition of Let’s Football Instagram Live, where he candidly tackled multiple fan questions and spoke about an array of topics. Here are some of the highlights from the interaction.

Recovery and lockdown

Providing an update on his recovery, the Hero ISL 2014 Emerging Player of the Season said, “It’s not been easy, but I never felt any pressure about it once it happened. I was lucky to have the right people around me. I got operated on November 7 at Mumbai. I was motivated and mentally strong. I was confident of coming back. I was supposed to join the national team in March, but it wasn’t possible. But everything happens for a reason and I can use the time to get even stronger.”

“I am still on my rehabilitation period. I was supposed to join the team in March and start the second part of my recovery, but circumstances didn’t allow it. I am keeping myself busy working out, playing jokes on Amrinder Singh on Instagram, trying to write, doing household chores, reading books etc. I have a routine set to keep myself fit,” he added.

Addressing the ongoing scenario due to the ensuing lockdown, he urged, “In these circumstances, we need to take up responsibility and follow the protocol. Because it’s up to us how soon we can overcome the scenario. I understand everyone wants to go out, even I want to go and train to stay fit. But we need to be responsible and abide by the precautions in place.”

On Hero ISL 2019-20 and Kerala’s season

Providing his insights on the season gone by, he commented, “It was an entertaining season. I read in papers that it had the highest viewership of all seasons. We are on the right track. There were late goals and edge of the seat action. Chennaiyin’s run after a slow start was like a movie. FC Goa, ATK and Bengaluru were brilliant as well. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be on the pitch and be a part of it.”

Commenting on Kerala’s campaign, he stated, “We wanted to play a brand of football and I think we achieved that to an extent. Eelco Schattorie deserves due credit. We couldn’t get enough points and the season went by fast. However, there were certain positives as well. The boys showed good character in some matches when the chips were down and it’s not easy. Hope we do better next season.”

Jhingan’s Team of the Season

Fans are currently choosing their Team of the Season on the indiansuperleague.com website. Asked for his version of the same, Jhingan obliged willingly. “It’s a tough choice between Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Amrinder Singh in goal, they can make it even if they play in Europe but I will go for Amrinder, my national team roommate. For centre back, I will go for Juanan and Pritam Kotal. For right back, Prabir Das. Seriton Fernandes, Shubham Sarangi and Rahul Bheke were also brilliant but the way Prabir came back, think he deserves the spot. For left back, I would go for Jessel Carneiro.”

“In midfield, I would go for Ahmed Jahouh. I am a big fan, the way he controls the ball, passes. Along with him, I would go with Rowllin Borges. In a no. 10 role in front of them, I would go for Hugo Boumous, he was sensational this season. It’s really hard to stop him when he starts to run with the ball.”

“I would go for Sunil Chhetri as the left sided forward. He deserves to be there. I wanted him to win the Golden Boot. Being a Kerala Blasters player, will pick Bartholomew Ogbeche as the no. 9, and Roy Krishna on the right,” he added, picking his three forwards.

Looking forward….

Addressing a fans’ question about what he expects from himself in the coming seasons, Jhingan declared, “Every season I try to get better. You shouldn’t take anything for granted. Every time I make it to the team sheet, even if its expected, I thank God, and every time I am picked for the national team, I say a prayer. There’s a lot of competition and you need to keep growing to keep your place. Being faster, stronger, better is my objective for every season. I am still just 26 and there’s still a long way to go.”

Enquired if he had an eye on playing abroad someday, Jhingan replied, “Football can take you anywhere. For now, I have a contract with Kerala Blasters FC and I don’t want to think too much about it.”

Beard and long hair

With his long hair and imposing beard, Jhingan is one of the most recognizable players on the pitch. Quizzed about the story behind his trademark style, the defensive ace noted, “I had to miss the SAFF Cup 2015 after sustaining an injury. I was very upset. I was in my rehab and I think I promised myself to be sort of old school and not cut my beard. One of my friends was also keeping it and told me it looked good, so I kept it. However, it’s not a big deal and I can shave it off if I want.”

“Long hair, though, is another story. I think I wanted to keep long hair from childhood and have even got scolded by my father for it while I was school. But I always wanted long hair. I love history, and historical movies. The characters in these always had long hair. I think it makes me, me. Legendary defenders like Paolo Maldini, Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta also had long hair. That too inspired me,” he added.

Manjappada in a word

Sandesh is a fan-favourite amongst the Kerala fanbase, which also includes the passionate and vociferous Manjappada fan group. Asked one word he would use to describe the iconic Manjappada, Jhingan stated. “Maybe priceless. You really can’t describe them in one word. Their love is unconditional, not only for Kerala Blasters but Indian football team as well. They have done a lot to support and uplift Indian football. They have done a lot for me as well, personally. If I had to pick one word, I think it would be family,”

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