A delighted Sandesh Jhingan announced that the AIFF Men’s Footballer of the Year 2020-21 award was one of the ‘best gifts’ he could have received on his birthday, as he turns 28 today and was revealed as the winner of the honour.
The Blue Tigers center-back, who also received the Arjuna Award last year, felt that winning the award was like a dream come true for him.
“When I got to know (about the award), sapna jaisa laga (it was like a dream). I was quite surprised, but I was also happy at the same time. This being announced on my birthday, it was one of the best gifts I could have imagined,” said Sandesh. “I’m really happy, especially for my family – my parents, my partner and my brothers.”
Sandesh mentioned he has learned a lot from National Team head coach Igor Stimac in the last couple of years and the 28-year-old believes that the Croat has especially helped him in many ways, one of them being improving the way he defends crosses.
“I believe I’m a good learner, and I learn from everyone. It’s hard to be specific, but I have learned a lot from Igor. There are lots of small things I’ve picked up that have made me more professional. He himself has played as a defender at the highest level – at the World Cup and in the Premier League, so it’s a learning process every day with him,” Sandesh informed. “If I have to pick one particular aspect, I think he has helped me improve how I defend crosses.”
While Sandesh has seen success at both domestic and international football, the defender has had to go through an uncertain phase of recovery from a serious ACL injury, that had sidelined him for months. However, being a firm believer in everything good, the defender has bounced back.
“I remember this time last year, I woke up at 3.45 am on my birthday and started my workout at 4 am. I worked on my rehab and didn’t stop until I could get back on the field again. I had to keep motivating myself as I wanted to come back and help my club and country. I learned a good lesson – injuries will happen, but you need to keep going, and never throw in the towel. I am a firm believer that everything happens for good, and if you stay positive, the good Lord will bless you with things,” he stated.
Sandesh played a crucial role in the Blue Tigers’ recent FIFA World Cup and AFC Asian Cup Joint Qualifiers campaign as India finished third in Group E and qualified for the third round of the AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Qualifiers.
“We have some good memories of the Asian Qualifiers, but it won’t be easy. We cannot be complacent or take anything lightly. We will be positive about the draw and aim to perform better than we did the last time. There’s a lot of hunger, passion, determination, and enthusiasm in the squad and we want to qualify strongly for the Asian Cup with our heads held high. I hope that things go well and we can make our country proud,” he averred.