A coach’s player, Wangjam not giving too much importance to India’s draw with Qatar last time around

Suresh Wangjam needs no introduction thanks to his exploits with India’s youth teams and Bengaluru FC in the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL). The young midfielder, who made his Blue Tigers debut earlier this year against Oman in Dubai, is facing another tough assignment as Igor Stimac’s men brace themselves for their remaining three matches of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in Doha.

The Indians are already out of contention for the 2022 FIFA World Cup but they can still make it to the 2023 AFC Asian Cup to be held in China, and Wangjam believes that’s enough motivation for the team to come up with desirable results.

“These are extremely significant matches and tough at the same time. Our eventual aim is to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup in 2023. Owing to the pandemic we are making up for lost time in the camp. The positive part stays that we have a full-strength team at our disposal. The mindset in the squad is extremely positive,” Wangjam told the AIFF Media Team. 

India play Qatar on June 3 before come Bangladesh and Afghanistan along the way on June 7 and June 15 respectively. Last time India locked horns with Group E leaders Qatar in September 2019, the match had ended in a 0-0 draw. Wangjam though doesn’t set much store by what has happened in the past.  

“As a newcomer, I am hearing stories about how we held Asian Champions Qatar in their own den the last time here. That motivates me and everyone else but at the same time, we understand that all of that is past. On June 3 when the two teams meet again, it will be a new start. So, you cannot rest on past laurels. In fact, the last time India played against Qatar, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, all were drawn matches,” he said.

The 20-year-old from Manipur also shed light on his role in Stimac’s team and his preference in terms of midfield duties. “I am a coach’s player. The role of the player is to execute the plans and stick to the role assigned to him to perfection. The coach will guide me and tell me what he wants from me for my team. I always try to gauge what the coach demands and thereafter I depend on his technical inputs. During the match, I just stick to the role assigned to me.

“If you ask me… I always love to be the box-to-box midfielder. But there have been matches where I started on the wings. So, there will be temptations to go for glory in certain moments, but as a player, I need to remember my role.

“Playing in different positions helps me to gauge the fine aspects associated with every position on the field,” the 2020-21 Hero ISL Emerging Player of the Month for December said.

Wangjam, who featured in 19 games for the Blues in Hero ISL 2020-21 and scored his maiden goal in India’s premier football league, also stressed the importance of his association with Bengaluru FC as to how it helped him reconcile with both possibilities -- ‘call-up’ or ‘no call-up’ from the national team. “It was never in my hand [the national call-up]. I kept on focussing on myself, and my play. My logic is simple – if I am not called then I need to understand that either I am not ready or I am not good enough. Being in Bengaluru FC helped a lot simply because I regularly trained with five national team players, and even Khabra-bhai [Harmanjot Singh Khabra] shared with me his experiences of the national team. That helped me grow in confidence,” he said.

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