At barely twenty years of age, Jabamani Tudu, Roja Devi and Manisha have carved out a small niche of a young core in the engine of the Indian Senior Women’s National Team.
Indispensable and often brimming with excitement, the trio are some of the youngest members of the Women’s National Team in a squad where the average age is just 21.
What might appear a group of teenagers off the field, the trio evolves into robust and dynamic players on it, often leading from the front and providing that crucial extra bit of energy that leads to major events in football – be it chasing a ball down, or man-marking with persistence or running after a loose ball going for a throw-in, amongst others.
“All three players have different qualities. While Jabamani is a sturdy and quick to react on the pitch in defence, Roja Devi is swift between the lines and usually works her way with ease in the opponent’s defence”, said Head Coach Maymol Rocky.
“Manisha is a strong girl who can lead the attack line on her own. Her height provides the opponent with an aerial threat,” Maymol quipped.
“The trio can easily be the core of the senior team in the near future. They possess the quality that we need from players and they have been pivotal to us lately,” Maymol explained.
But getting into the Senior Women’s National team wasn’t a bed of roses for them. In fact, all three came through AIFF’s youth teams – the U-16s and the U-19s – where they played a major part in international events, that eventually earned them a call-up for the Seniors.
“The quality of these players were visible in the SAFF U-19 Tournament and the AFC U-19 Championship Qualifiers where we defeated Thailand 1-0. All of these players have the ability to single handed affect the outcome of the match”, said India U-19 Women’s Team Head coach Alex Ambrose.
Ambrose, a former India International added: “Manisha is tough and gives the opponents defenders a hard time while playing as a classic number 9. Jabamani Tudu is a mainstay of any defence, and her services down the wing are fool proof. Roja Devi is quick and a very effective player between the lines.”
A former India international who rubbed his shoulders against the likes of Bhaichung Bhutia, Shanmugam Venkatesh, Climax Lawrence amongst others, Alex also tutored the other off-field aspects of the sport.
“In the India U-19s, I became part of an environment that was professional. Our diets, conditioning and routine used to be monitored. We had specific sessions aimed on strength as well,” Jabamani informed.
Manisha mentioned that it was an “eye-opener.”
“We also learnt how to behave on the field and off the field. That was one of the key lessons.”
Roja Devi went a step ahead saying the “transition has been smooth.”
“The transition from the U-19s to the Senior Women has been easy enough for me because of almost the same environment in the teams. It has been almost seamless.”
For the record, Jabamani and Roja are 19 while Manisha is barely 18.
“They now need to put in the hard work, and aim to keep their form up week in, and week out. If they can do that, they can go on to become some of the best players,” Maymol explained.