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Sports in India works a little differently than most other countries. Bread and butter come before an athlete’s love and passion for any sports. But that hardly means it cannot be the start of a fairy-tale success story for an athlete! Just ask India and Mumbai City FC Right-back football player Davinder Singh as he opens up many secrets about his stunning rise to the top. This is Davinder Singh, unplugged, in an exclusive interview with KreedOn:
Football for Milk and Bananas
Football wasn’t the love at first sight for Davinder. The little kid from Patiala started playing with his two friends just for free milk and bananas that were provided to them after the practice. That is how Davinder’s football journey begins, in a little unorthodox way but look where it has taken him today!
He went to the trials of Dalbir Football Academy in Ludhiana, once again for the diet that would be provided to all the players. But life had something else planned out for Davinder, who was selected at the trials. He learned the fundamentals of football and worked on his fitness at the same academy.
But coming from a difficult background, becoming a professional football player was still a distant dream for Davinder. “Belonging from a poor family, I never experienced that financial stability to forget about everything else and just focus on football. When I was in the 11th class, I even tried to get into the army through general quota. I cleared all the physical rounds but failed in the tests.”
The First Big Break
Davinder continued playing football without much success at the academy. But the family pressure was piling up. He was selected for the BSF under the sports quota. But luck just wasn’t on Davinder’s side those days. His college froze all the jobs under the sports quota due to a controversy. And just when it looked like nothing was going his way, Davinder got a national call after his performances at All India Inter-University Games.
Destiny is a funny thing, isn’t it? One day the youngster was struggling to find a job to support his family, and the next day, football, which he started for mere milk and bananas, came to his rescue.
First National Call & India U23 Debut
It is rare for a footballer to make a jump from University level football to the India U23 side. But Stephen Constantine saw something in the right-back and decided to give him a chance. And after years of hard work, starting with free meals for practice, academy trials and pressure to take care of the family, Davinder’s day had finally arrived. “It was a dream come true for sure. Every Indian sportsperson dreams of playing for the country, and I was at the top of the world at that moment.”
“The special and nervous moment was my debut match against the home team Singapore. Coach sent me in the 2nd half, and we went on to win the match after scoring one goal in the second half.” The Indian manager was impressed with Davinder’s performances and promoted him to the starting XI for the very next game.
Blue Tigers Calling
After a string of good performances, Davinder was called up in the senior squad. A guy who was looking for a different job for money was now going to represent India at the international level. “A few months after losing all the hopes, I was now travelling to Qatar with the Indian National Football team.”
Davinder was selected in the Indian senior squad just at the age of 21. But the youngster was well received by his seniors, especially, Shahnaad Singh and Balwant Singh. The right-back started two games against Qatar and Turkistan, winning the second game 3-1.
Struggles and injuries
But what’s the fun in life if it doesn’t keep throwing difficulties at you from time to time? Davinder’s rise to the top was dramatic, to say the least. From the academy to University games to U23 to the international setup, the defender kept climbing one step after the other. But his journey hit an unfortunate break due to an injury.
“I suffered an injury during practice in my knee meniscus. So after returning from Qatar, I joined Mumbai City FC, where I got my knee operated and rehabilitated for the next month. Then I went on to debut in the ISL. After this, I got a call for the InterContinental Cup but couldn’t participate because of injury.”
But Davinder was not the one to give up so easily. Despite not being picked in the ISL draft, he got an offer from Mumbai City FC based on his international performances. And upon his return from the knee injury, he won the Emerging Player of the Match award against Kerala, in his debut match for Mumbai.
Young full back, Davinder Singh was named the #HeroISL 'Emerging Player of the Match' for his energetic performance in both, defence & attack. Our in-form striker, Balwant Singh bagged the 'Hero of the Match' for his equalizing goal. 🙌#MadeInMumbai #TheIslanders #LetsFootball pic.twitter.com/YhBjpm0wR0
— Mumbai City FC (@MumbaiCityFC) December 4, 2017
The right-back played a total of eight matches in his first season, which says a lot about his talent. How many 21-year olds would get eight games in India’s best football league playing for one of the biggest clubs? Not many. But Davinder is not a part of the crowd; he is here to stand out. He is here to make that defensive right wing of the Blue Tigers his own in the next few years.
A “Not-so-great” experience
“A not so great experience would be the finals loss in SAAF games in Bangladesh. We were very confident after defeating Pakistan in Semi-Finals (3-1). On top of that, we were going to face the Maldives in the Finals, whom we had already defeated in the group stage earlier. Unfortunately, it was not our day, and we lost 1-2 to the Maldives in the Finals.”
Along with that disappointing defeat, the knee injury also kept Davinder Singh away from the field once again. However, with the recovery process and rehabilitation, the defender has worked to come back stronger than ever.
Every athlete needs one life-changing moment to make things happen for him/her. And for a right-back Davinder Singh, that moment came when he was selected for the U23 squad at the University game. But how did that happen?
In the game against Kolkata, where Indian selectors were scouting the probable future stars of the country, Davinder’s team needed to score three goals in the second half. “For the second half, the coach promoted me from right-back to striker. He trusted me, and I did not disappoint. I ended up scoring two goals and also assisted one to lead my team to the top of the table. I think that played a huge role in my national team selection and changed my life.”
What are the champions made of? What is the workout secret? #TayariJeetKi
Davinder still remembers his coach’s words from the academy days, “Mehnat Karo, fal Bhagwan dega.” And he religiously followed coach’s instructions, practising thrice a day, making him tough enough for the India team. Davinder gives the credit of his fitness to the Dalbir Football Academy as he thinks he has the “unbreakable endurance” due to his days in Punjab. He even confesses that he didn’t know much about football back then but always gave his 100% on the field – And if that isn’t a formula for success, what is?
But that also meant Davinder had to eat “healthy un-tasty” during his academy days. His favourite dish Rajma Chawal is a rare sight for the defender in the national side now.
you may not see me out on the field,but you can bet i’m working behind the scenes💪🏻⚽️🇮🇳💙# comebackseason#leftlegstrongerthanbefore#rehab#Believeyourself pic.twitter.com/xXS8nD6oVY
— Davinder Singh (@Davinder32) January 27, 2019
An Introvert fella, opened up chatting with us 😉
“I would say I’m more of an introvert, don’t really like to talk much with people around. I have even shocked myself today, in talking to you for so long now!” he exclaims.
I love to do fishing when I visit Nainital (our family root place).”
But the Indian superstar is one of us when it comes to games. He loves playing PubG and Play station. Davinder also loves English songs, but hailing from Punjab, he simply cannot resist Punjabi songs when he is out with friends.
— Bikramjit Singh (@BikramFootball) April 29, 2019
#NeverLookBack Tip for the Next-Gen Indian Athletes
“I would suggest to every budding sportsperson in India to be focussed on the goal and do the hard work. Hard Work always pays off. And it is vital to surround yourself with positive people and avoid any contact with the depressing, negative bugs that are prevalent in India. I am very fortunate to have so many positive supporting figures in my seniors, friends, and family. I am truly thankful for their support in my tough times. And I hope to keep making them proud for the rest of my life.”
That’s a golden rule kid, take it from a man who has crossed several hurdles to get to where he is today. A journey of a kid from football for free milk and bananas to football to represent and defend the tri-colour – A Journey of Davinder Singh!