I-League: Churchill Brothers striker Balwant Singh hopeful of India call-up
I-League champions Churchill Brothers might be languishing at the bottom of the table but in striker Balwant Singh they possess one of the most consistent performers of this season. Balwant is currently the second highest Indian scorer with six goals in nine starts and has the best minutes-per-goal ratio among Indians.
A product of the renowned JCT youth system, Balwant made his senior debut for the Phagwara-based club back in 2008 and represented them in three I-League campaigns. Following the relegation and disbandment of JCT in 2011, Balwant moved to Salgaocar but endured a torrid time there as his first season was ravaged by injury while in the second campaign he only featured in the local league matches.
That two-year spell at Salgaocar was a big setback in Balwant’s career as by 2011 he had already represented the India Under-23 side at the SAFF Championship, AFC Challenge Cup and the Asian Games. While at Salgaocar, Balwant was largely anonymous in the Indian football scene for two straight seasons.
But instead of feeling sorry for himself, Balwant never lost hope and kept working hard. Then the appointment of JCT legend Sukhwinder Singh as the technical director of Churchill Brothers at the start of this season saw the 26-year-old join the Red Machines.
Balwant reunited with the coach, who launched his career at JCT and gave him the chance to play for India U-23, and soon got his self-belief back.
“Yes playing under Sukhi Sir revived my confidence as I grew up as a footballer under his guidance. Even when I was not playing at Salgaocar, I never gave up. I always believed I could come back and perform at I-League level. You know when you get the football education at a club like JCT you learn to deal with difficulties and so people can now see my qualities again,” Balwant told Sportskeeda in an exclusive chat.
Sukhwinder resigned after a poor start to the I-League campaign and was replaced by Subhash Bhowmick but Balwant didn’t lose his place in the team. In fact he has performed even better under Bhowmick, scoring 50% of Churchill Brothers’ goals.
“Even he (Bhowmick) encourages me a lot and I am enjoying training and playing under him,” Balwant said.
There is still a long way to go in the Airtel I-League but Balwant’s consistency has been eye catching as he has managed to find the back of the net regularly in a league where Indian strikers struggle to compete with foreigners. The former JCT player admits the difficulties that the four-foreigner rule has created but explained that good performances will always be rewarded.
“Well to be honest four foreigners in the starting eleven is too many. It makes it very difficult for Indian players but then again if you keep creating and scoring goals you will play week in week out. That’s what I try to do whenever I am on the pitch. I try to work harder every day and hopefully I can keep improving,” he opined.
Balwant’s form kept Syrian striker Yasser Shahen out of the starting eleven in the 3-1 win over Mohammedan Sporting last weekend. That result was only the second win for the holders but they remain rock-bottom and need to find consistency in the New Year to avoid the embarrassment of relegation.
“I feel there are still plenty of points to play for so we must keep believing in ourselves and give everything in the remaining games,” Balwant said confidently.
Balwant, who also spent a part of his youth career at the Mahilpur Football Club, doesn’t have any personal milestones in terms of goals and only wants to help the two-time Indian champions improve their position in the table but he certainly craves for an inclusion in Wim Koevermans’ next India squad.
“Of course that is the ultimate target for any player. I just want to keep producing the goods and then if the coach feels I deserve a chance then nothing like it,” he concluded.
If Balwant maintains his impressive club form then that wish of representing the India senior national team should get fulfilled in 2014.