Sandesh Jhingan hails Hero ISL’s influence on Indian football

Centre-back Sandesh Jhingan feels that the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) deserves credit for the massive strides made by Indian football in recent times. In an interview with All India Football Federation (AIFF) TV, Jhingan, who recently parted ways with Kerala Blasters FC, mentioned the impact made by the Hero ISL on Indian football ever since its inception in 2014.

“Rising from 173 to 96 in the FIFA rankings, we have travelled a long way till now. From playing tough games against Nepal to giving a tough time to Qatar in Qatar -- Indian Football has experienced a lot in recent times,” Jhingan opined.

“I believe ISL deserves the due credit. We shared the dressing room with players whom we looked up to during our childhood. They were untouchable when we were kids. That has provided us with the motivational boost," he added.

During his time with Kerala Blasters in the Hero ISL, Jhingan rubbed shoulders with some household names from European football. Part of the same backline that featured European footballing greats like Wes Brown and Aaron Hughes, Jhingan recalled learning from some of the best and how foreign exposure games has helped the national side.

"We never realised how good we were until we played against quality opponents. The foreign exposure games left a huge impact on our recent transition. Games against PR China, Qatar, Puerto Rico and mostly the matches in AFC Asian Cup helped us gain the boost in a big way,” he said.

The Indian international continued, “The current batch is very ambitious. Since making my debut with Pritam (Kotal) and all in 2015, I have seen this batch through thick and thin. The Thapas and the Sahals have come up and the squad has grown from strength to strength."

As Jhingan alluded to, one of the most memorable nights in Indian football’s recent times took place against Qatar in the World Cup 2022 and Asia Cup 2023 Joint Qualifier. The Blue Tigers managed to come away with a point from Doha after heroic performances all over the pitch and Jhingan offered an insight into the mentality of the dressing room that night.

"Even when we walked out of the dressing room it didn't cross our mind that we can't do well against Qatar in Qatar. We got in there, stuck in there and got the result. Everybody (in the team) wants the result. Everyone is equally ambitious. Down the line after 100 years, people will remember this batch,” Jhingan said.

For someone who is known to never shy away from a tackle or tough questions, Jhingan found himself in a fix when asked to choose between legends IM Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri during the chat. "Honestly, I don't deserve to choose one from them. I don't have the audacity to judge them who have delivered so much for the country. All of them are equally great and we always look up to them for inspiration," he shared.

Be that as it may, Jhingan himself has been etching his own place in the annals of Indian football ever since bursting onto the scene as the Emerging Player of the League in Hero ISL 2014. He was recently nominated by the AIFF for the Arjuna award and will be hoping to join Vijayan, Bhutia and Chhetri as a recipient of the award for football.

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