Oinam Bembem Devi has been the ‘Pillar’ of the Indian senior women’s football team for two decades. Understandably, her decision to call time on her international career after the 2016 SAF Games will leave a big void in the Indian midfield position.
The 37-year-old vastly experienced midfielder played for 20 years for the country since making her international debut in 1995 as a 15-year-old. Bembem, who is employed with Manipur Police, talks about the state of women’s football in India and much more in an exclusive interview.
Q. You decided to retire from international football after playing for the country for 20 years. Was this decision a planned one?
Look, I took a decision to quit international football in December and apprised AIFF about it. The 2016 SAF Games was coming up in Guwahati and Shillong – I was asked if I could play in the SAF Games and I agreed to play in the event, which turned out to be my international swansong.
Q. You also played for Manipur for one last time at the 21st Senior National Football Championship in Jabalpur, where your home state lost to Railways 3-4 on penalties.
Our girls really worked hard and we reached the final. I scored a goal in the final, where both teams were locked 3-3 after extra time. It was hard luck for us but the girls played their hearts out.
Q. What plans you have post retirement?
I made my senior international debut in 1995 as a 15-year-old boy and after playing for 20 years, I would like to contribute to the sport. I may take up coaching activities but as of now, I haven’t decided on anything.
Q. You played for Manipur for 20 years – you played 80 internationals and scored 32 goals – you were part of the Manipur team that won the senior nationals 17 times, and you were captain 9 times.
I’m proud of my achievements. I feel happy to have contributed for my state and the country.
Q. Tells us a bit about you playing in a foreign league in 2014?
I played in the Maldives league in June 2014 for New Radiant. The league in Maldives is quite competitive – players from Germany, Sri Lanka and other nations came on loan to play in the league. Maldives has good infrastructure for women’s football and the league was conducted professionally.
Q. What is your biggest moment as a player?
It has to be winning the 2016 SAF Games gold medal. The crowd in Shillong was massive – I have never seen such huge crowds before. The way I was honoured for my farewell match was something I can never forget.
Q. How do you see the infrastructure for women’s football in India?
States like Manipur, Odisha, West Bengal and Maharastra have good grassroots level program for women footballers but I think women’s football must have proper infrastructure across all states as it will help to build a strong national team.
Q. Manipur players dominate the national side - at times the team is packed with players of the North Eastern state.
Manipur has craze for women’s football and that is why you see more girls from our state in the Indian team. At times, the team have eight to ten players from Manipur, if you include those state girls who go to Bihar or outside Manipur to take up jobs in Railways the number will of state players will be more.
Q. Finally how is important is a I-League type league for Indian women’s football?
I have heard that such kind of league will happen. If it happens, Indian women’s football will get really strong as we don’t have too many domestic tournaments during the year.