Jitendra Singh: The boy who dreamt | ISL 2019-20 (Exclusive)
Years ago, in a remote village in Uttarakhand, a family struggled to make ends meet financially. To put things into perspective, they endured a monumental task each day trying to sustain themselves.
Thereafter though, akin to one of those twists of fate, they found themselves in Kolkata, the city of joy, meaning that plenty of other opportunities were available, although the struggle for finances remained.
Yet, at that juncture, they displayed the requisite bravery and courage to grind things out, even when it would’ve been easier to forego their dreams and return. And, ultimately, it laid the foundation for a certain Jitendra Singh to leave his imprint on the Indian footballing landscape.
In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, the Jamshedpur FC youngster opened up on the afflictions he and his family faced during his formative years. He said,
When I was very young, we were staying in a village in Uttarakhand where you couldn’t play any sport. My mother used to work in fields, and she struggled very much to even get food on our plates. My grandfather used to get his salary but then he too got very ill and we had to go to Kolkata for his treatment.
Then my mother saw the chances available in the city and she convinced my father to stay back and continue to struggle to ensure that we [children] got good education. I initially wanted to play cricket but we didn’t have the money to buy the equipment, so I switched to football.
Since then, Jitendra hasn’t looked back and has charted an unprecedented upward trajectory, although that path has also been sprinkled with its fair share of obstacles.
I used to go to a lot of football trials but was not selected in many of them. Fortunately, I got selected later for the AIFF Elite Academy and then I was also named in the India squad.
Once the midfielder was called up to the national side, he found himself in an enviable position of being a part of the first crop of Indian footballers to don the blue at a global event. Recalling the aforementioned period, he quipped,
I remember that time very vividly when all of us were in Goa and we were just praying that India got the opportunity to host the World Cup. After that, my brother told me that I needed to try my best to get into the side and he made me understand that even if I didn’t make the squad, I shouldn’t have any regrets. By god’s grace, that happened, and I will never be able to forget the experience of walking out in Indian colours at the World Cup.
Subsequently, Jitendra found himself in the professional mix with the Indian Arrows, wherein he impressed alongside his peers from that historic World Cup squad. Unsurprisingly, the midfielder kept improving, although there were a few tough times where he felt that he might not have been cut out for the top level. However, despite such factors, the Indian navigated his way through the ranks to earn a move to Jamshedpur FC.
On being quizzed about the elements that acted as motivation, he promptly replied,
We are also humans and sometimes you feel that way. But, whenever I am feeling down, I just remember that I want to bring a smile to my mother’s face and that pushes me to do my best. My mother is my biggest inspiration and whenever I remember her face, I just get infused with positive energy. I’ve seen her struggle and all I want is for her to be happy.
In fact, Jitendra’s propensity to treat adversity as a friend rather than a foe has enabled him to acclimatise himself to the cut-throat surroundings of the Indian Super League. Primarily a defensive midfielder, the Indian has been asked to deputise across the defensive line whereas he has also been entrusted with his favoured role by Antonio Iriondo, at times.
Most promisingly though, the former Indian Arrows star has taken those demands and tweaks into his stride and has been able to give more than just a decent account of himself.
I feel that No.6 [defensive midfielder] is my best position, although I am ready to play wherever the team wants me to. When I was young, I followed Xavi for his passing and awareness and Arturo Vidal for his defensive contributions and energy. I tried to watch them as closely as possible and tried to inculcate their habits into my game.
However, in consonance with the crests and troughs of a professional footballer, Jitendra also endured a tough situation recently, wherein he was issued his marching orders against ATK at the Furnace. Yet, in sync with his tendency to look at setbacks as potential routes to further success, he managed to tide over the red card and used that time to introspect and chalk out the flaws he could iron out.
Unfortunately, though, the midfielder’s strong performances throughout the campaign haven’t correlated to an upturn in fortunes for Jamshedpur FC. Courtesy their defeat against Mumbai City FC on the 6th of February 2020, the Red Miners have had their qualification hopes firmly dashed, meaning that they only have pride to play for in the games that remain.
Jitendra though, isn’t looking at those matches as dead rubbers, stating that it represents an ideal platform to keep enhancing one’s game and add more strings to one’s footballing bow. Furthermore, he opined that it would be a great end to a tricky season if the club managed to finish their campaign on a high.
Inevitably, one was led to ask the midfielder his goals for the upcoming years, considering his precocious talent and the footballing revolution the country was undergoing. He commented,
Obviously I am itching to play for the senior national team. But I also have to remember to be patient and keep improving. Additionally, I want to become a regular at Jamshedpur FC because I feel that there is still a lot to achieve and that I haven’t done very much so far.
Thus, at the end of an illuminating conversation, Jitendra had portrayed the qualities that had allowed him to perch himself among the higher trenches of Indian football.
Years ago, when his journey started, he represented just another youngster whose talent could’ve been criminally under-utilised, owing to the hardships his family had to endure.
Yet, at that moment, his mother decided that if Jitendra and his family were to live their future as champions, they needed to train and suffer each day in Kolkata, something which might not have been everyone’s cup of tea.
Inspiringly, the Jamshedpur FC midfielder slugged it out in the city of joy and ultimately, enabled his family to find delirium in a place that has often been the stage for many a fairy tale.
After all, Jitendra, unlike countless others, is the boy who dreamt and relished every part of the challenge that accompanied it, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Published 07 Feb 2020, 14:52 IST