Head coach Thomas Dennerby during a training session in the camp ahead of their AFC Women’s Asian Cup | Photo Courtesy: AIFF

Watching European leagues on television and debating these matches over drinks will not actually bring a change in the football scene in your area.

When we talk about Indian football, it has always been Kolkata, Kerala, Goa and of course Manipur. Manipur specifically because of the number of players they have produced over the years.

Even Mizoram has done tremendously well in creating so many talented footballers over the last several years.

There will be hardly a team in the ISL or in the I-League which doesn’t feature a player either from Manipur or Mizoram.

Well, coming to women’s football, the scenario is a little different with Manipur dominating the scene like no one has ever done.

Not only they have produced some of the best players – Oinam Bembem Devi, Bala Devi, Ashalata Devi, Dangmei Grace – just to name a few, they have also performed so well in the domestic circuit.

Manipur women have won the Senior Women’s National Football Championship title 21 times. They have been runners up four times. And only once they have failed to reach the final.

That’s the volume of Manipur women’s football. No one has to say a word to understand that.

While having a random chat with the legend Bembem Devi who is the most capped Indian female footballer, I asked her why is that Manipur women is so good at the game.

She smiled at me, changed her sitting position and said: “There is nothing special. There are so many players lined up at the junior level, school level to play football. The competition is so high from the very beginning.”

“There are leagues, inter-district tournaments and then the school level tournaments. The players are engaged in action most of the time. This brings out the best of them. And that’s how there are so many women players doing well in Manipur. They are also doing well at the national level,” she said.

Yes, that’s one part of the story which is very basic. You need to have leagues and competitions regularly.

And when we talk about Assam, where is the league? What the players are meant to do when they are not playing the occasional tournaments like nationals?

During the 2021-22 senior women’s national championships, some of our players like Sonia Marak played really well. Though Assam lost in the quarterfinals, Sonia scored 7 goals in 4 matches including a hat-trick.

The Assam team could have done much better had they got some more time for preparation.

And how they would prepare? By giving more time in training and playing more matches ahead of the tournament. Most of the players were tired in the midway because of the lack of match practice. Technically, they were not match fit.

And after coming from that tournament, there is no league or matches to play. So, how they would continue the rhythm?

And that’s why Manipuri women do much better. Why I’m comparing Assam with Manipur is simply because they have set up an example with very limited resources.

After that, the most crucial part is the coaching. Again, the comparison will be made with Manipur. If they have countless coaches certified by the AFC and the AIFF, we have very few.

When the youngsters are not groomed properly at an early stage, it’s difficult to shape them when they grow up.

The bottom line is that one has to have a holistic approach to improve the game and of course a basic understanding of the game is a must. You really have to love the game of football.

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About Sukanya Baruah


Sukanya Baruah is a resident of Guwahati. Her interests include fashion, design, music, sports and politics.


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