Manipur—Growing granary of   football
Ravi Menon (Indian Express)

UDHAGAMANDALAM, MARCH 25: Foodgrains and woollen clothes apart, there
is another ‘commodity’ that Manipur exports to other states on an
annual basis - footballers.

A glance at the list of Manipur players who try their luck elsewhere
in the country is enough to give any top Indian club a shudder.

Somatai Shaiza, Romesh ‘Bulu’ (Churchill Brothers), Renedy Singh,
Kiron Khongsai, Ratan Singh (East Bengal), Gunbir Singh, Joy Kabui
(Mohammedan Sporting), James Singh (BMFC), Surmony Singh (Salgaocar),
Sanaton Singh (Dempo), Khambiton Singh (Air-India), Balin Singh
(RCF)....the list is endless.

“If at least half of these players had played for their home state,
who knows, we would have won the Santosh Trophy hands down,” said
Shanti Kumar Singh, coach of the Manipur team.

The coach added that these players could not be blamed. “What else
can they do? It is too difficult for any footballer to make a living
from the game in Manipur. There is no great encouragement at the
government level either.”

This is one of the reasons why Manipur sides perform exceptionally
well at the sub-junior and junior levels, while the senior team fails
to emulate them in the Nationals.

This year too, the flow is set to continue. At least four or five
from Manipur have already had talks with the major clubs. Tombo Singh,
one of the most promising players to hit the State’s soccer scenario
in recent times, is reportedly set to join Air-India.

“Sports is a religion for us, and soccer a lifestyle,” said Shanti
Kumar who had earlier guided Manipur to a title triumph in the Junior
Nationals (under-19). “There used to be huge turnouts for soccer
matches in our State. We conduct two major All-India tournaments for
men and women annually—Sir Churachan Memorial and R K Priobratta
Open Tournament. There are a number of local tournaments too.

“Though the Manipur players are short-statured, their physical
fitness, muscular power, speed and endurance are almost unequalled at
the domestic level. Since we are short, we are able to regroup quickly
and organise combined moves easily. There are some drawbacks too,
mainly in the defence, where the rivals often beat us with high
crosses. We are forced to play the wall passes, and reduce operations
in the air,” pointed out the coach who has undergone specialised
training courses in Brazil, Germany and Malaysia.

“The secret of success of our team in the junior Nationals, I feel,
was the adoption of a brand new 3-5-2 system,” said Shanti
Kumar. “It is an uncommon system in our country, where most of the
clubs and State sides adopt either 4-3-3 or 4-2-4. The 3-5-2 is a
midfield-oriented pattern, where both the wing halves have the
additional responsibility of moving up and down, to bolster the
defence and also to initiate attacks. The wing halves will
automatically turn attackers while their team is in possession of the
ball, and will defend while the rivals hold the ball.

“This system was adopted mainly because we are short of good
defenders. However, the quality of our midfielders is superb. Our game
plan revolves around these talented youth,” said the coach.

Shanti Kumar added the state is looking forward to the
future. “Perhaps, we may not make much waves in the Nationals this
year. But you will see a different Manipur side next year. A team
which would go places.”

Incidentally, Shanti Singh’s eldest son Socrates, named after the
legendary Brazilian, was a member of the Mamta Modern Senior High
School team which won the Subroto Cup last year.

My Love for the game .... Ibotombi Longjam

Incidentally, Ratan Singh who is playing for East Bengal now is my old
school mate (we were in the same class till standard X). He is from my
local place and we used to play together in the mini football
Tournament, playing for our local club (Waikhom Leikai Athletic
Club). That was when we were in class VI. Then I stopped playing
giving emphasis on my studies (somehow it’s difficult to be successful
in both, as I often observe). Then he played for our region The
Southern Sporting Union (known as SSU or Singjamei simply) for a few
years. He played brilliantly, specially in the mid-field with accurate
chip, excellent through pass and smooth tackling and like. I came to
Harynana to study my MSc and he came to Goa the following year to
play for Churchil brothers which ended as the Runner Team in the first
Phillips National League. Then when I was in Mumbai, I went to see a
footbal match between Mahindra & Mahindra and Churchil Brothers of
which he was a player then. But it was so unfortunate that he didn’t
turn up as he was not fit because of an injury. In the half time, I
went to the dressing place (also the Bench just beside the feild) and
talked to Somatai Saiza who was the captain of the Goan Team (ChB)
about Ratan and asked him if he could pass a message for me. He agreed.
The spectators in the gallery were all curious to know who I was and
how I dared to talk to their team’s captain. With head held high, I
came back to the stands and continued to watch the game. I think he
passed the message, for the following year, I got a flow of letters
from Ratan.  Next year when he came to Mumbai, he got me a shirt for
and came to my place (IGIDR). There I introduced him to my fellow
research fellows, some of them being from Calcutta. When I told them
that my friend is currently playing for East Bengal and he feeds
Baichung (the most famous player in India) with beautifully timed
passes, they all looked at me with their eyes wide opened.

I still remember those proudful moments. But admist them, there was
one unclear idea that came to mind. That my friend has made not only me
proud in front of my friends, but made my home state proud also in the
whole country and here I am, who has spent a quarter of his life in
doing the so called STUDY and has served technically nothing for the
state. However, there seems to be one HOPE -that keep moving and work
hard; and one day you will get the opportunity to serve for your