Hero ISL has been a true blessing to me: Jhingan after HNK Sibenik move

Sandesh Jhingan may have moved to Croatian top-tier side HNK Sibenik but he has not forgotten the role the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) has played in his development over the years.

Jhingan made his Hero ISL bow with Kerala Blasters FC in 2014 in what was also the inaugural season of the league. The very first season, he caught everyone’s attention through some fabulous defending and went on to win the Emerging-Player-of-the-Season award. He stayed with the southern club till 2020.

“The [Hero] ISL, the more I say how it has benefited me the less it is. It’s been a blessing to me. With due respect, [Hero] I-League is also fantastic. But ISL, it gave us exposure,” Jhingan told the Indian media in a virtual interaction on Thursday.

The 28-year-old went on: “As kids we all used to watch the Premier League, the Serie A, the Spanish League and I always felt that these players [in those leagues] were untouchable [too good]. That they were from different planets. I used to feel like that, watching them on television. Through ISL when we got the exposure to play against some of those players, true that they were not as young as before, but when you saw them from close, when you heard them share their experiences, you realised it [reaching their level] wasn’t something unachievable, you realised if you worked hard and you were ready to make the sacrifices, you could be up there [with them].

“And then when you got the opportunity to play for the national team against oppositions like Iran, you realised the difference was not that much. So, the league really opened my view. That you can be there playing against these top players. The list of these top players is really long over the years [Nicolas Anelka, Roberto Carlos, Florent Malouda, Alessandro Del Piero and Robert Pires – to name but a few].

“It’s been a true blessing. I am happy that it started at the right time for me. I was just 20 when I signed for Kerala Blasters FC. I will always be thankful to the ISL because it helped me so much to be a better player, a better human and through ISL only that I got this interest from HNK.”

Jhingan featured in all Hero ISL seasons but one – in 2019-20 when he had to miss the entire campaign on account of an injury. Jhingan moved to ATK Mohun Bagan ahead of the 2020-21 season and helped the Mariners reach the final. His performances for the Indian national team in the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in Doha (Qatar) in June increased his stock even more. National coach Igor Stimac spoke of him in glowing terms after the Blue Tigers directly qualified for the third round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. Jhingan revealed how the Croatian convinced him that joining HNK Sibenik will be the best thing for him.

“I did speak to the gaffer [Stimac] when we were in Qatar. I had received a call from my manager and he told me that this club has shown interest in you. Then I spoke to the gaffer about it and he told me the pros and cons. I have always been in touch with him. He is close to the director here [at HNK Sibenik] as well, so yes, I was always in touch with him and he gave me a lot of confidence. And he told me, ‘This move will help you a lot in your career, it will enhance your game.’ He was always involved in this, I always called him for suggestions,” Jhingan, who has 98 Hero ISL appearances to his name, said. 


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