The morning after scoring the match-winner in the Hero Indian Super League final, Bipin Singh sits with his boots, caressing them. Today, he owns so many. He then wipes them and with much care, puts them in the bag for his next challenge – the Senior National Men’s Team camp.
The next moment, he takes them out once again, only to wipe, and place them with the utmost care in the bag. They mean his life to him after all.
The love-affair had begun quite early. As a kid, Bipin drooled over oversized boots. “I didn’t have any boots to wear. So I used to grab any boot lying around and wear it myself and run away to play. They were big in size – huge in fact. And it was quite a challenge to fit into them. But I managed and ran fast. People used to laugh but allowed me to wear them,” Bipin’s laughter breaks the ceiling.
The sole player to have scored a hat-trick in the Hero Indian Super League 2020-21 loses count the very next moment as to how many boots he owns currently. “I have 9 boots,” he quips. “No, I have 11, I think,” he tries to correct himself. “10 for sure, maybe 12,” he stops.
You understand that isn’t a full stop. Life for the tireless Bipin has just kicked-off. He played an integral part in the AFC Champions League qualification run for his club Mumbai City FC, and that was followed by winning the Hero Indian Super League. A first-time call up to the National Team camp followed.
“I was once rejected for U-14 National Team trials in Goa. I had dreamt of playing for India but eventually never made the cut,” he pauses. “Later, when I saw the junior boys getting that many matches against foreign teams and travelling all over, I felt a bit jealous,” he admits.
“I have worked very hard for this call-up. I have no words to thank coach Igor Stimac. I need to pay him back, as much I am extremely grateful to my club coach Sergio Lobera for his confidence in me.”
Do you feel any change within yourself since U-14 rejection and now?
You feel his breath over the phone. “That time I wanted to win everything. I felt I could take the ball and get past everyone and score every time I had it at my feet. Nowadays I understand that doesn’t happen likewise,” he laughs again. “Goals are so hard to come,” he chuckles.
You remind him that he ended up scoring six goals in the Hero ISL. “But all of that is in the past. The match-winner in the final is past tense, so is the hat-trick. It doesn’t guarantee me more goals in the future. But yeah, they motivate me — reminding me of my abilities. But my hardest task lies ahead,” he says.
“Life for a footballer is not just about goals. You look at a goalkeeper. He is so crucial, perhaps the most important player. So you can never measure a player’s abilities by the goals scored,” Bipin asserts. “At the moment, I am just in the list of probables. Let me get into the final 23, and then take the next step to the XI. Nothing is guaranteed in life.”
Life after the Hero ISL triumph hasn’t changed a bit for Bipin. “I have received several messages saying that I am a special player. But I am not. Everyone called for the camp is a special player. I am just another player, and most importantly a first-timer.”
He is nevertheless quick to understand the significance of the forthcoming Friendlies. “Oman and UAE are strong teams. It will be a big test for all of us as much as the camp will be a learning curve for me. As footballers, we learn at every step.”
Suresh hails from Wangoi, a small village in Manipur. “Suresh (Singh) is also from my village,” he informs. “I had started playing as a left-back. But my coaches shifted my position and I have continued ever since my Shillong Lajong days. I always get immense joy in running fast. Even in those oversized boots, I used to run past all,” he laughs again.
(Nilanjan Dutta / AIFF Media)