Chinglensana Singh's long waiting hours at the dug-out was finally over, with his move from FC Goa to Hyderabad FC proving to be career-changing for the footballer. The Manipuri was not only one of the best defenders in the 2020-21 ISL, but also earned himself a cap for India owing to his fine form.
Like numerous players in the circuit, Chinglensana Singh also shifted base from the traditional I-League to the cash-rich Indian Super League along the way, in anticipation of an upliftment. However, as the saying goes ‘the grass is always greener on the other side', the change of paths have not been smooth for footballers with Singh also initially struggling hard to find his footing in the top-tier. However, that was not the case during his Shillong Lajong FC days, where he had cemented a place in the playing XI.
The Tata Football Academy product was shown faith by Italian legend Gianluca Zambrotta, under whom he played 12 matches for the erstwhile Delhi Dynamos FC in the 2016 ISL, plying trade in his favoured centre-back position. But, he lost that run of appearances when he was deported to a star-studded FC Goa unit, a team that already had more than enough firepower in each department. The negligible spending on procuring the services of the Indian saw him become a backup option for FC Goa, a team which had expensive first choice stoppers, who were mainly foreigners.
Fitting into the scheme of things the ‘Gaurs’ wanted him in, ‘Sana’ as he is popularly known as, played a total of 19 matches across three seasons, which took a huge beating on his game time and confidence. Apart from a Super Cup win, there was hardly anything to boast of for Manipuri during the stint. But, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, with Hyderabad FC coming to his rescue, having signed the footballer ahead of the 2020-21 season. That’s when it all changed!!
Although Chinglensana did not get off to a flashy start from the get go, he was not ill-at-ease either. As the season progressed, the defender unleashed the beast that was laid dormant for a long time and produced more than his share of rock-solid performances at the back. For instance, he finished with the most number of successful passes for an Indian defender, with an impressive accuracy of 85.4%.
The former India U19 star largely contributed to Hyderabad FC being one of the best teams defense-wise, with them conceding just 19 goals in 20 matches. Not only that, in the 18 matches he featured in, the centre-back made 76 clearances, 26 tackles and 26 interceptions that shows his influence on the side.
“I have to say, this was probably the best season in my career. I believed in the project and I am happy that I signed for Hyderabad FC. The club’s vision to push youngsters and give them a platform to prove themselves is a real asset for Indian football. I enjoy my time here and am happy for the season we had,” said Chinglensana Singh, during an interview with SportsCafe.
Sana’s heroics were visible as the ‘Nizams’ were within touching distance of the play-offs. Another one taking note of the huge progress was Hyderabad FC head coach Manuel Marquez, who was himself responsible for developing the skills of the Indian footballer.
There was a point when the Spanish manager was close to dismissing Chinglensana from the playing XI, following a string of poor results. But, the turnaround by the stopper in over the next few games not only prompted Manolo to stick with him but also delayed the entry of the much-experienced Adil Khan onto the scene.
“There is hardly anything bad you can say about Manuel. He has been fantastic with every player in the squad or a senior. He wanted us to develop and improve as a player in every training session. His attention to detail certainly helped every player weed out the mistakes from their game. To keep improving as a team and to stay humble were really important things for him and I am looking forward to another season, training under him,” informed the footballer.
While most ISL teams prefer to have two foreigners in charge of central defence, Hyderabad FC has the luxury of fielding an extra overseas player up-front, with Chinglensana filling-up with extraordinary efficiency in the concerned position. However, his deputy was former Secundra Division B player Odei Onaindia, an old trickster in the play who demanded support from his Indian counterpart. And, Sana did deliver the goods with the rookie also imbibing certain qualities from the veteran.
“Odei is a fantastic player and a really good leader. He is a great partner to have on the field and play alongside and I was fortunate enough to learn a lot from him. We had a good relationship, and it was a great learning experience for me,” added the footballer.
In spite of a fifth-place finish, it was a successful season for Hyderabad FC, as they hit all the correct notes, their strategies worked out, their recruitments paid dividends and their coach developed a brand of football, which can be carried forward to the next season. Most importantly, a catalogue of youngsters including Chinglensana, Liston Colaco, Asish Rai and Akash Mishra made their breakthroughs. Quite justifiably, six of them were selected by Igor Stimac for India’s friendly matches against Oman and UAE.
“Yes, it was disappointing in the end because we all believed that we deserved to qualify (for the play-offs). But this is football. Things are not always rosy and you need to get over it. From some impressive results to six players called up to the national team, it was a successful season in more than one way and the credit should go to the management, the coaching staff and everyone who was a part of the club. It was a learning curve for our young team and we will come back stronger,” admitted the footballer.
However, Chinglensana’s biggest personal achievement still remains his debut for the Indian national team during their 1-1 draw against Oman in late March. It is a feeling that cannot be traded for anything and the footballer has cherished every bit of it. However, the experience taught Sana the competitiveness that exists at the highest level, and how he must keep on polishing his skills to keep himself undroppable in Igor Stimac’s setup.
“There is no better feeling than wearing your national team jersey and representing your country at the highest level. The hard work you put in the training, in the gym, the diets you follow is all worthwhile when you can finally play for your country. It is a dream come true for me but it is just the beginning and I know that I need to work hard to keep my place there,” added Sana.
Chinglensana, for the time being, is fully focused on the upcoming season, with him believing that the Hyderabad FC squad have what it takes to make the top-four cut. As per the latest reports, the new season of the Indian Super League might get underway in September, later this year.