It took just one season for the talented Manipur footballer Telem Jackichand Singh to rise from obscurity. The 24-year-old winger is yet to come to terms with the sudden success he has seen last year. Under the expectation of his top class show in his maiden season, he is already feeling the pressure to live up to expectations.
“It happened all in a year and at a brisk pace. I was so lucky, I got to play in top division in I-League as my club Royal Wahingdoh got promoted from second division. I performed well and got the ‘Best player award’ of the I-League and was subsequently picked in the senior Indian team. Later, to get picked in the ISL2 auction summed up my great year,” Singh recollected.
“ISL was a great experience. Earlier, I used to eat anything and take a lot of rice. But, we had a proper diet plan in place and learnt what to eat and drink. Playing with quality foreign players gave us the exposure. The pre-season training was great to start with as coach David Platt prepared us fully for his style of play, and taught us about the permutations and combinations. But, I was not able to perform to my ability as I got injured and their was less time between matches to recover fully. I haven’t got a great start to this I-League season with Salgaocar FC and I am already feeling the pressure. Injuries haven’t helped my cause but with Santosh Kashyap joining the club, I am sure I can regain full fitness and perform to my optimum level,” he says.
Like his namesake in Hollywood Jackie Chan, Jackichand likes to stay stylish, sporting a flamboyant hairstyle with a tattooed body. But the father of a four-year-old son who is married to his teenage crush has been a real fighter all through his life quite like the reel action hero Jackie Chan. The names of his wife and son are inked on his right arm — Beauty and Civic.
His father, a farmer and mother, who ran a tea stall were huge Chan’s fans and named their child after the Chinese action star and Jackichand only came to know about this at the age of 15. Jackichand’s love for football developed at his mother’s tea stall where he used to help ensure his two younger sisters were fed. While serving tea, Jackichand was mesmerised by the skills displayed by footballers in the nearby ground.
He used to get a chance to up his skills when players stopped at his small hotel and kept the ball there. His first action on the ground was with a borrowed pair of shoes, though smaller in size, his resolve took him places where his talent shone.
“A local coach in my village, Lokendra Singh taught me the fundamentals of football at a local club in Manipur. He later advised me to move to Shillong and join the Army Academy and after that Wahingdoh picked me up in 2009, and I became a professional footballer,” he said.
After playing in the second division I-League for three seasons, Jackichand finally got a chance to play in the top division of I-League after his club Royal Wahingdoh got promoted. He grabbed the opportunity by scoring eight goals and emerging best player of the I-league 2014-15. His show also assisted his club to finish a creditable third.
The feisty winger went on to play for India in the World Cup qualifiers and was a prize catch for FC Pune City in the ISL2 auction. He was the first Indian player to go under the hammer and went for Rs 45 lakh. “We didn’t have a proper home and it was my dream to construct my own house. The money I got in the auction helped us a great deal — to buy land and construct a home in Manipur,” he adds.
He had a great start at ISL2 for FC Pune City scoring the second fastest goal in the tournament’s history against Atlético de Kolkata. He was one of the favourites of their English coach David Platt, but midway injuries started to haunt him. He also wasn’t part of the title-winning national team in SAFF Suzuki Cup. He is now part of Goan side Salgaocar FC in the I-League but is struggling with injuries.
His reunion with Mumbai-born Santhosh Kashyap who got out the best in him at Wahingdoh last season, has given him a new lease of life. And he is already showing glimpses of his remarkable last season. The footballer who likes to hang out with friends loves a good game of snooker and is also quite the movie buff.