By the end of February, Sandesh Jhingan will know whether he will stay in Sikkim or move farther north- to China. Sandesh, who currently plays for United Sikkim Football Club- co-owned by Indian legend Bhaichung Bhutia- is being keenly followed by China’s League One clubs. Such is his repertoire that two Chinese clubs are ready to ply his service from the I-League club.
The player from Chandigarh, accompanied by former club coach Philippe de Ridder, will reach China before February 17 and meet with the club officials. If everything goes well, he will perhaps become the first Indian player to play in Chinese League, and after Bhaichung Bhutia and Sunil Chhetri to play professional football abroad.
In the recent times, Didier Drogba, who won Champions League with Chelsea FC last year, also played in China in Chinese Super League before moving to Turkey. League One is just a division below the Chinese Super League.
"I remember Sandesh as a very talented and balanced footballer. He was part of the St Stephen's Football Academy during the South East Asian finals of the Manchester United Premium Cup at Malaysia five years ago. He is a very skillful player and uses his height to good advantage. Even at that time he showed potential to be a top-level player," shared Surinder Singh, coach of St Stephen's Football Academy.
The 19-year-old had recently also caught the attention of national coach Wim Koevermans and he was put in the stand by list for the friendly encounter against Palestine which the Indian team lost 2-4 on Wednesday. On Friday, he was named among the 30 probables for the AFC Challenge Cup Qualifiers to be held in Myanmmar in March.
It was Ridder who had helped Sandesh blossom into a top defender as the Belgian ensured the Chandigarh player got enough opportunities in the first team when the team was still in the Second Division.
Sandesh, a former student of Shishu Niketan, Chandigarh, had to overcome several obstacles before turning himself into one of the most coveted and promising youngsters in India. As the youngest of the four brothers, Sandesh took to football and started kicking the ball in the streets before finding his feet at the Sector 17 Football Stadium. As he started showing promise, he became a regular member of the school teams and then the Chandigarh junior team that won the Dr BC Roy Trophy for Under-19 football tournament.
He was soon called for the national Under-19 camp but the dream did not last long as he was plagued by injuries soon after. Injury on his knee followed by ankle fracture made the matter worse and just when his epitaph was being written, he rose from the ashes and made a superb comeback. He soon joined United Sikkim and since then he has not looked back.
Playing alongside legends like Bhutia and Reneddy Singh has been dream come true for him. "I wish him best of luck. I hope he makes it," said Surinder even as Sandesh, or Sandy as he is fondly called, awaits the D-Day.