Sandesh Jhingan’s return to the World Cup qualifiers is more than an assurance for everyone. The leader in Sandesh had missed the last three matches of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Qualifiers owing to an unfortunate injury. In a candid interview, the Arjuna Awardee speaks at length about the process, the preparation, the mixed bag in Dubai, the bio bubble while admitting the Blue Tigers haven’t played to their potential.
Your last World Cup Qualifier was against Qatar, and the match against Qatar marks your return to the World Cup Qualifiers.
It’s a relief. I am happy that I have been able to get back after the injury lay-off. A man’s greatest honour is to represent his country. In that sense, I am lucky, grateful and thankful whenever I get a call-up. We can never take things for granted. The team needs to stay focussed on the job at hand. It hasn’t gone the way it should have.
What do you mean by that?
I will be the first one to raise my hand and say that we haven’t been able to play to our potential. It’s not gone the way we all would have wanted it to go – especially after such a promising start. We need to be brave enough, raise our hand and take the blame for it. I reiterate, we haven’t played to our potential.
The Friendlies in Dubai in March were a mixed bag. Your reactions.
It’s a human tendency to remember and talk about the negatives. In Dubai, we drew Oman who are such a good side — that too with 10 debutants. People don’t talk about how we came back from behind to win, and had it been a little longer, we could have won. I am a person who has believed in the process and the roadmap which Igor has laid down for us. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But right through my career I have learnt that you learn more from your failures. You just need to stay positive and keep going. From a player’s perspective, the mixed bag of results will stay with us all throughout our lives. That’s how life is. But you can’t sit back and mourn.
How has the preparation panned out so far?
Anyone who understands football will know the importance of a proper preparatory camp, and how important a friendly match is in preparation for a major tournament. Owing to the pandemic we lost out on friendly matches in Dubai which isn’t ideal. But there are always two ways of looking at things. The easier option could have been to throw in the towel but the great squad which we have – we are there to fight.
No one remembers and will ever make an effort to get into the depth of the preparatory process. Everyone just remembers the result – it is as simple as that. If you are a part of the system you will try your best to get the best for the team. But there are also certain aspects which are not in your hands. So every human being is a bit helpless in that regard.
Head Coach Igor Stimac has always mentioned about missing his ‘Ironman’ after the historic result against Qatar.
As an individual it means a lot when you get so much confidence from your coach. Every time I have tried to improve as a player, he has always helped me. It motivates me to work hard. But it also hurts me that I couldn’t play a part. Not that I could have changed the score line as the others who replaced me are equally capable. But what lies ahead is more significant.
Also, what most people aren’t aware of is that Stimac is a very kind human being. I will always remember his gesture when he flew in from Delhi to Mumbai, drove almost two hours to see me at the hospital post my surgery to wish me fast recovery.
What does the bio bubble mean to you?
It’s tough. After all, we are also human beings and not robots. Our families are back in India. But the call of the nation supersedes everything. As professional players when we signed contracts, we were aware of the obstacles that could have come our way. Obviously, none could ever predict the pandemic. I am fortunate enough to have a very good life. So for me — bubble or no bubble — I get to do what I love the most – go out and play football. And I do it with a smile on my face.
(Nilanjan Datta / AIFF Media)