Manipur footballers Bala Devi, Suresh Singh Wangjam

Manipur’s Bala Devi has been named as Women Footballer of Year 2020-21 by All India Football Federation (AIFF) and another player from the state, Suresh Singh Wangjam was named the winner of the Men’s Emerging Footballer of the Year Award.

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Currently playing for Rangers Women’s FC in Scotland, Bala Devi made her debut for the team in February last year and created history as she scored her first competitive goal for the team in December. She remains the first Indian woman footballer to sign a professional contract in Europe.

On receiving the honour, the 31-year-old Bala Devi stated: “I am so happy to have won this award. A big thank you to the AIFF and all the fans for their support. I would also like to thank my coaches – both at my club in Rangers, and in the National Team, and all the coaches that I’ve played under in the past. A big thank you also to my family and all my teammates for all the support.”

“I arrived in Scotland last year, just before the global lockdown had started, and acclimatising to any new place in such conditions has been extremely difficult. But with their help, I have been able to focus on the things that are most important, and keep myself in top shape, both mentally and physically,” she added.

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This marks the third time that the mercurial forward has won this prestigious award. Bala Devi previously won the AIFF award two years in a row in 2014 and 2015.

While, 20-year-old Suresh Singh, who made his Blue Tigers debut earlier this year against Oman, becomes the latest midfielder to win the Men’s Emerging Footballer of the Year Award.

He stated: “It is an honour for me to receive the AIFF Men’s Emerging Footballer of the Year 2020-21 Award. I am extremely glad and thankful. This Award will improve my self-belief and will motivate me to achieve further success in the future.”

A former AIFF Academy cadet, Suresh was part of the Indian side that competed at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017 and spent two seasons with the AIFF’s developmental side Indian Arrows in the I-League. Known for his never-ending stamina and box-to-box play, the midfielder has notched up five senior national team caps and started all three of India’s games at the FIFA World Cup qualifiers in Doha in June.

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