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Meet the Singhs from Manipur: The new kings of Indian football

Suyash Upadhyaya | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 12:15 IST
  • Seityasen Singh and Reagan Singh of North East United FC are making waves in Indian football, after impressing in the Indian Super League.
  • Both of them have played for Royal Wahingdoh FC in the I-League, and owe much of their progress to the club.
  • Catch spoke to the youngsters about their footballing ambitions and their journey so far.

Chennaiyin FC won their last group stage match against Pune City FC in this season's Indian Super League, and it was all over for the boys from the northeast.

Rooted on twenty points in the table, North East United FC needed Chennaiyin to slip up for them to qualify for the semi finals of the ISL. But they didn't - breaking the hearts of supporters of the club that represents eight states, but is united in the cause of playing a thrilling and attractive brand of football.

The news was also hard on two players in particular - North East United FC's Irom Seityasen Singh and Reagan Singh, the team's midfield and defence stars, respectively.

Seityasen 'Seitya' and Reagan have come a long way since their humble beginnings in Manipur - the "nursery of footballing talent in the country". The two are quick to credit Royal Wahingdoh FC and North East United FC for polishing them into the footballers they are today.

Seityasen Singh has arguably been the most promising player in this season's ISL. In 2011, he was drafted into Royal Wahingoh FC of Shillong. He was 19 then. Though the club was unable to gain a promotion into the I-League, Seitya's performance levels remained consistently high.

The club was finally promoted in the 2013-14 season. And although the club has pulled out of the upcoming I-League season, Seitya's performances were good enough for him to be drafted in the ISL, and even earn a call up to the national team.

Four 'ISL emerging player of the match' awards and a senior debut against Oman in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers later, 23 year old Singh is ready to be the next big creative force in the national football team for years to come.

Twenty two year old Reagan on the other hand, is best known known as 'Toughie' among his North East United FC teammates. For someone of his age, Reagan is quite an imposing presence, and the forwards of the I-League will testify to that.

In the 2014-15 season of the I-League, he started 19 matches for his club and helped his side secure a best-ever 3rd place finish in the league.

His talent was recognised by national team coach Stephen Constantine, who called him up to the national team squad for this year's FIFA World Cup qualifiers against Oman and Guam. Although an unused substitute on the bench for both games, Reagan is sure that his time and chance will come.

Catch spoke to the duo about their journey, their dreams, and what makes them the players that they are.
royal-wahingdoh-fc-seityasen-reagan-singh . Photo: Royal Wahingdoh FC

(top 3rd from left & bottom 4th from left) Reagan Singh and Seityasen Singh line up for Royal Wahingdoh FC in a tournament. Photo: Royal Wahingdoh FC

Seitya, In 2011, you captained Royal Wahingdoh in the 2nd division when they completed an upset over Churchill Brothers. Reagan, you were a part of that team as well. But with Royal Wahingdoh having to wait till 2014 to gain promotion to the I-League, were there times when you thought that the big stage might not be able to see your talent? What has the journey been like?
SS: I have been lucky to be part of teams that believe in each other. From the owners to the coach and the players. We knew we were playing well and taking the right steps. From Shillong league, 2nd division and then I-league we gave our best. I am happy to get the opportunity to play and showcase my talent across all competitions. Football is a game of ups and downs and right guidance and your hard work get you through all.
RS: It was an educational experience under Santosh Kashyap. I learnt a lot as a footballer and I learnt the value of winning. When we secured promotion I was delighted and since then it has been a fairytale.
Seitya, what were your footballing ambitions growing up in Manipur?
SS: It was just to play good football.I always wanted to play football. I enjoyed it. Ambitions evolve over time and now I want to do well for my club and country every time I take the field.
And you, Reagan? What a journey it's been, you almost made the starting 11 of the Indian football team!
RS: It (playing for the national team) will happen when it has to. When I was called up for the national team, I was delighted. Again, I try to control what I can and focus on getting better every day.
seityasen-reagan-singh-indian-team . Photo: AIFF Media

Seityasen (L) and Reagan (R) at a national team training camp. Photo: AIFF Media

(To Seitya) How did you convince your family about wanting to play football professionally?
SS: Becoming a professional footballer in this country always has its challenges. Convincing your family about your career move is also difficult but thankfully my family supported me once they came to know that I loved the game so much. Manipur has always been a place infused with football, so it was good to grow up there . People love you and Shillong is home to good clubs and moving there started it all for me.
Speaking of Shillong, Reagan.The future of your club Royal Wahingdoh FC seems shrouded in uncertainty, with the club deciding not to participate in the upcoming I-League season. If the club were to stop operations, how will it impact other teams from the northeast and largely the future of football clubs in the north east?
RS: It would be sad as it is a club that gave me a lot as a footballer and I am sure several youngsters saw it as a route to the national level. We also had a very dedicated fanbase, with a lot of young people supporting us. So, it is not nice that it has come to this, but since its out of our control we must put our heads down and carry on and control what we can.
What is it about Manipur that some of the country's best footballers have come from there?
SS: The people are enthusiastic about football and understand the game very well. Football is almost like a religion there. A way of life. There is a lot of love, support and encouragement that budding footballers get and if you work hard, you can shine.
The AIFF has been scouting Imphal to open an U13 Academy. Do you think you could have been a better footballer had there been this kind of support when you were younger?
SS: It definitely makes a big impact. Grassroots development is vital for the development of any young footballer. Every player needs to be groomed through the Basics and such academies are good for Indian football.
reagan-jackichand-seityasen-singh . File Photo

Seityasen (L) and Reagan (R) with I-League player of the season Jackichand Singh of Manipur. File Photo

What has it been like to go from a young player from Manipur to the ISL? Do you think your success will make people notice talent from the North East even more?
SS: The experience has been wonderful. Playing with some of the best international players has been great. Even working with a globally successful coaching team is a privilege. The quality of play is better which is always great. The north east today is a bug nursery of football in the country. A lot of players from the region have done very well, both in the i-League and ISL. this success will definitely open up gateways for budding footballers in the north-east and inspire them as well.
Reagan, you've impressed in the ISL this season, earning you a very interesting nick-name from your teammates. What's the story behind 'toughie'?
RS: (laughs) It's probably because of my no nonsense defending!
What's next for the both of you?
RS: My next aim is to improve my overall skill as a footballer, and be a role model to the football crazy youth of the country.
SS: Playing regularly for club and country. I would also give back as much football back to the community as possible. My family and my close friends keep me grounded, and they keep telling me to just keep working hard and play football.
Is there any advice you'd like to give those kids and youngsters in general?
SS: Football is definitely a good way of life. I would like every young kid to inculcate sports in their everyday life. Football gave me discipline, focus and a fit way of life.
RS: Be dedicated. It's the best way to succeed. Control what you can, and focus as much on your diet as you do on the game. We don't often do that here in India. Last but not the least, focus on your weak points. Set a target and smash it!

The new Singhs of the north east could be the new kings of the north east.

First published: 8 December 2015, 12:43 IST
Suyash Upadhyaya @SuyashU

A believer of the Indian football dream and an ardent cricket fan who likes to explore the nuanced side of all sports, Suyash finds creative expression in sports writing. Lover of literature, Liverpool FC, and an earnest economics enthusiast, he has just joined Catch News after completing his post graduation at Xavier Institute of Communications, Mumbai. When not staying up the whole night watching football, he loves spending time playing the sport itself, reading, and generally wondering when he'll decipher everything about the world around him.