Exclusive: From scoring goals at AFC Cup to winning I-League, Beikhokhei Beingaichho still searching for a club to play
20 April 2010. AFC Cup Group D - Al Ittihad vs. East Bengal (Aleppo, Syria). The Syrian side is 2-0 up with roughly ten minutes to go. East Bengal is staring at yet another AFC Cup defeat but their hope of mounting a comeback gets rekindled by a diminutive Mizo player, Beikhokhei Beingaichho.
Then only 19, Beikhokhei collects a pass from Sanju Pradhan, turns away his marker, and unleashes a scorching strike to make it 1-2, scoring his first goal for East Bengal, that too at one of Asia's biggest platforms.
Beikhokhei scored at the AFC Cup in 2015 again. This time for Bengaluru FC against Myanmarese club Ayeyawady United, to become one of the very few players in India to score for two different clubs at the continental competition. But today, he is staring at oblivion and searching for a club to play.
Early days to glory with Bengaluru FC
Beikhokhei's journey in Indian football began at an early age when he decided to leave the comforts of his hometown at Siaha, Mizoram, to train with the IFA Academy in Haldia, West Bengal.
"I started playing football at Mizoram at my school. After that, I was selected to train with the IFA Academy in Haldia. One of my friends told I should go and give the trial there. So, I gave the trial there and never looked back."
After signing his first senior contract with George Telegraph and a two-year stint with East Bengal, he followed then-head coach Phillipe de Ridder's footsteps to play for United Sikkim in 2011 in the I-League Second Division. But, his real calling came when he signed for Bengaluru FC in 2013.
Beikhokhei was a part of the squad that clinched the I-League trophy in their very first season. He credits the club's professionalism for their triumph and believes it brought a whole new change in the Indian football ecosystem.
"How is Bengaluru FC different? They are very professional. When they came in 2013, no club was as professional as them. I believe every club started acting more professionally since they came in the picture. That has brought a huge change in club football in India."
Plying his trade for four seasons with Bengaluru FC, his favourite moment remains the assist he provided to Robin Singh against Mumbai FC in an I-League match in 2014. Trapping an aerial long pass from midfield on the right-wing, Beikhokhei dribbled past two defenders inside the penalty box, took the ball to the byline, and curled a lobbing inswinger. Robin Singh towered above his marker to head the ball into the net and put the team back in contention.
"I was with them for four seasons but the best moment for me would be in the 2013-14 I-League, our first season. We were playing a home match in the I-League and we were losing 1-0. But, I stepped up for an assist and made it 1-1. I was partly injured then but managed to give a cross from the byline from which Robin (Singh) scored the goal in an empty net."
Bengaluru FC drew that match but Beikhokhei produced similar exhibits of artistry a plethora of times that season and ended the competition with eight assists, the most by any player in the I-League, which earned him the moniker of 'assist king.'
On Igor Stimac and Udanta's rise
Despite a stellar 2014 season, Beikhokhei didn't get a call-up to represent India as the country played only two international matches that year. Later on, head coach Stephen Constantine gave opportunities to only a selected set of players and he was left out.
But, Beikhokhei believes the present scenario is different. While the result has not gone entirely in the new head coach Igor Stimac's way, his willingness to try out new players makes it easier for everyone to represent India.
"The chance of representing India has become slightly easier now. Not for me because I am without a club presently. But, I believe that if any player performs wonderfully then he can get a national team call-up. In the recently concluded Intercontinental Cup, you saw that the coach gave opportunities to every player.
This is the golden time for any player to wear India jersey. He just needs to perform consistently and he could get an India call-up!"
Beikhokhei's career trajectory went downhill from 2015 when Udanta Singh began to make an impression. The Manipuri speedster is arguably the best winger in India at the moment. But, Beikhokhei believes that if he got the same set of opportunities, he would have been at the same place where Udanta is today.
"Udanta (Singh) has developed himself massively over the last five years. He is a great player, no doubt about it. But, I believe, Bengaluru FC gave much attention to his training and conditioning in comparison to me. In the second season, I was playing the majority of the matches in the right-wing. But, Udanta started getting a lot of game time from the third season. And, after playing so many matches, he improved rapidly.
"Udanta's pace proved to be an advantage for him. Whether he played good or bad, he used to be always given the chance because there were huge expectations from him. Even if they gave equal opportunities to both of us, I believe, I could have been at the same place where he is today."
ISL Draft snubbing
But, what left Beikhokhei broken-hearted was staying unsold at the ISL Players Draft. The negotiations with Bengaluru FC regarding an extension were going smoothly but miscommunication with his doctor and agent resulted in his exclusion.
"My contract with Bengaluru FC expired just before the draft took place. There were talks about the renewal and I thought of accepting the offer they were giving me. But, after the (2016-17) season ended, I had a knee operation. My first knee operation took place all the way back in 2011 (after he left East Bengal and before he signed for United Sikkim) when I was injured. This operation was just to ensure my conditions didn't deteriorate.
"Only 15-20 days had gone by since that knee operation. And, my doctor mentioned in the medical report that he has just undergone a knee operation. I came to know about this later. The reason I think Bengaluru FC management decided not to renew my contract was because of my medical issues. My agent spoke with the ISL authorities and in the last moment, I came to know that the word spread to every ISL clubs that I have suffered a recent injury. But, I was fine. I was not injured at all."
Leaving the disappointments behind, Beikhokhei went on to sign for Mohun Bagan in the I-League. However, the team had already figured out their tactics and playing style from the Calcutta Football League. Hence, he could impress the club management to make only five appearances. Since then, he is searching for a club to play.
"Nothing happened because they came prepared from the Calcutta League. The team was already formed. So, I couldn't get many opportunities there. The players who got chances beforehand, they kept on getting chances. I felt that as a player, I could have made a good contribution to the team. They played a midfielder in the right-wing position instead of a traditional right-winger."
The 28-year-old faced a similar ordeal in 2012 when he was abandoned by all the clubs. It was Pradyumn Reddy, then an assistant coach with Bengaluru FC, who called him to give a trial with the club.
"Yeah, I am in contact with Pradyumn (Reddy) sir. We don't talk daily but we are in touch. What will I do about the club? I discuss all these things with him. I still take advice from him about what to do and what not to do."
Changing times in club football in India
The ISL and I-League running parallelly, and not merging, makes it tougher for players like him to stage a comeback. The number of club competitions in India has also reduced in the last few years. As a result, the clubs are not taking incentives to expand their squad which is detrimental for the growth of Indian football.
"If this happens, it will be a huge problem in my opinion. The chances of a new player coming to the forefront or a player making a comeback from injury would get tougher. In India, the ISL and I-League are being held separately. A very few number of matches are also being held.
"Due to that, the same players keep on playing. Those who are not playing, they are getting less number of chances. If there is more number of matches for a team, then every player would get an opportunity. Now, there are very few tournaments. There should be more tournament like there were before."
Beikhokei's agony with knee injuries started back in 2011. He underwent an operation but suffered minor injuries thereafter. Now, he claims to be fully fit and raring to go.
"I had a knee injury in 2011. I underwent an operation after my time with East Bengal got over and just before I signed with United Sikkim. I didn't play for a year in 2012 and then joined Bengaluru FC in 2013. I played for two and a half years without any fitness issues. I had a minor operation again but became fully fit in one and half months. Now, there is no problem. Everything is all right."
'No club is big or small to me'
The AIFF's decision to request Asian Football Confederation to grant the ISL champions the AFC Champions League Qualifiers spot has virtually relegated the I-League to the second division. But, Beikhokhei is desperate to make a comeback in club football and no team is small or big for him.
"I am just waiting now. If any club calls me for a trial or gives me an offer to sign a deal, I am ready to go with them. I am fully fit now. I am training wholeheartedly. I don't have any doubt on my fitness level. I am just practicing on my own. No club has called me so far.
"No club is big or small for me. I just need playing time now. If any club wants to sign me, I am ready to pen the deal."
When asked about his retirement plans, Beikhokhei replies that he would like to contribute to the country's grassroots programs. India has taken huge strides in the last five years to nurture the grassroots and he believes every club has played a huge role in it.
"There has been a massive improvement in the grassroots level, I believe. All the clubs have made a huge contribution. I would definitely like to contribute to grassroots development after my retirement. Even now, whatever I have learned from my experience, I try to share it with the kids around here every day so that their game can prosper," signs off Beikhokhei.Modified 20 Dec 2019, 23:50 IST