Interview with Indian Women's team captain Ashalata Devi: "Our biggest goal is to qualify for the World Cup"
Indian women's team captain Ashalata Devi has heaped praise on the development of women's football in recent years, adding that the game has improved at the grass-roots level. The 26-year-old, currently plying her trade with Sethu FC in Tamil Nadu, is enjoying her football under Maymol Rocky for the national team and with the U-17 World Cup around the corner, she is expecting more young players to come through the ranks in the coming months.
"The Indian Women Football Team’s level has improved since the past 2-3 years. Many states have also started grassroots at a good level. And we even have the U-17 women’s world cup coming next year and it is a huge platform for our country. The tournament will help us to find more talented players. It is because of these tournaments that women’s football is getting recognized by a lot of people who weren’t aware of the opportunities they could have before."
Although she started football at a very young age, it wasn't necessarily plain-sailing with regard to convincing her family and Ashalata has also revealed that her father initially wanted her to become a goalkeeper. In stark contrast, her mother was sceptical about a career in football but the 26-year-old refused to give up and followed her heart, as she made her debut for the national team for the U-17 team in 2008.
"I started playing football when I was in 7th grade. My family wasn’t really supportive of me opting for a career in football. It was only my father who motivated me, he always pushed me to become a goalkeeper. I used to tell him that I didn’t want to be a goalkeeper and I was scared of being one. My mom was concerned about a career opportunity in football and used to always tell me to study."
When asked if the exposure for women's footballers has improved in recent years, as opposed to what was the case in the past, the 26-year-old pointed out the importance of the Indian Women's League as a defining factor for up and coming players.
"IWL is happening since 3 season we think that if we have more number of I-League and ISL teams, it’ll help us get better. Gokulam Kerala FC and FC GOA have started their team in past 2 seasons. After seeing these team, we hope that more I-League and ISL come and become a part of women’s football in our country."
22-year-old Dalima Chhiber, who became an internet sensation earlier this year for scoring a 40-yard screamer in the SAFF Women’s Championship 2019 match against Nepal, has recently moved to Canada to pursue her education. When asked about the kind of precedent it sets, Ashalata emphasised the need for more young players to come through the ranks and added that the team has improved leaps and bounds under their new coach.
We want more young and talented players in the future. During our Olympic qualifier rounds, we had more U-22 players which gave good results. Maymol ma’am has helped us to improve our fitness level along with being a very motivating coach. Our game play style has also improved in both attacking and defending depending on our opponent team’s strategy.
Under Maymol Rocky, who has been at the helm of the women's national team since 2017, Ashalata believes that the team can scale new heights and praised her coach's tactical nous and her ability to inculcate youth into the team.
"She is well aware about the requirements of all the players and what will help them grow. It makes me really happy to see how she has managed and trained the youth teams."
"Our biggest goal in 2020 is to qualify for the World Cup and get past the AFC qualifier round," she concluded.