Indian football suffered a massive blow on the last day of 2015, as the national women’s team’s most prolific performer Oinam Bembem Devi announced her retirement from the sport. With 11 goals in 18 games, the 35-year old was the first mainland Indian women’s footballer to sign a professional contract abroad.
Her time with Maldivian outfit, New Radian SC saw Devi reach the championship’s goal scoring summit in 2014. She was awarded the player of the season trophy with six goals, four assists and numerous match winning performances.
Devi said, “Today is the last day of 2015, I hereby officially announce my retirement from football. I have been lucky enough to have had a wonderful career representing my country for 20 years and the State team for 24 years. The upcoming AIFF 21st Senior womens National will be the last tournament I would play for the state team. It's been an incredible journey and I enjoyed every moment of playing,"
Devi has also been a picture of consistency for the Manipur state team, having represented them for the last 25 years. The Indian team’s most capped player, made her international debut at the age of 15 against Guam. Donning the number six jersey, her breakout performance came against traditional heavyweights Japan during the 1996 Asian Games. India would go onto lose the match 1-0, but Devi’s performances were applauded by pundits around the continent.
By 2003, she emerged as the national team Captain and successfully guided India to their first major title at the 2010 South Asian Games. She also guided the country to SAFF Championship success later that year. Devi was voted the AIFF Women’s footballer of the year in 2001 and 2013.
She has now started several training programmes back home in Manipur, in an attempt streamline players to the national team. Considered one of Indian women’s football’s most prolific talents, Devi’s exploits were let down by the absence of a professional league in India. Indian football pundit Novy Kapadia had said, “Undoubtedly Bembem Devi was Indian women’s football’s first superstar talent, but the lack of infrastructure and importance to the sport in the country didn’t do enough justice to her talent.”