On Monday, 3 October, Mumbai City FC will play FC Pune City for what is billed as the ‘Maharashtra Derby’. At the end of the ISL 2016 match, one man will have the unique distinction of having played for both teams.
In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, Jackichand Singh, the ex-FC Pune City winger currently with Mumbai, revealed that he is ready and excited. “It will be fun to play against Pune. But the main thing is to win and the team would be very happy if that happens," Jackichand said.
His excitement at starting the ISL 2016 campaign is palpable. A return meeting with some of his friends at Pune clearly motivates him. He mentions Gouramangi Singh and his idol Renedy Singh as his two Manipuri pals in the Pune team.
Jackichand’s rise to fame came when one of his earliest clubs, Royal Wahingdoh, gained promotion to the I-League in the 2014-15 season. Adjudged as the best player of the 2014-15 season, it was his ability to both score and assist that made him such a big hit.
A clamour for his signature in the 2015 edition of the I-league meant that his stint at Pune City FC was built on high expectations to show good results, but the seventh place finish meant that Jackichand had to start all over again – this time in Mumbai.
When asked about his new club’s chances, ‘Jacki’ as his teammates fondly call him, said, “When the management, coach and players become a unit, success follows. Everyone is doing well. In my experience, it’s hard to judge how good the competition is beforehand. 10-15 minutes into the match against Pune and we will know how good their team is.”
Mumbai City FC had a disappointing season under Nicolas Anelka last season and this year's campaign will see Uruguayan legend Diego Forlan take the lead as a striker at the club. Jacki was quick to give an insight into the mind of Forlan.
“He seems like a very cool person! He doesn’t talk much but guides players if something goes wrong. I have noticed what he eats and how he prepares before matches in order to improve my game,” gushed the Manipur-born lad. Clearly Forlan’s role in the squad is to help correct niggling mistakes and make the necessary adjustments required to make an assault on the ISL 2016 play-offs. But it’s also heartening to see how young players like Jackichand are looking at the methods of a seasoned veteran like Forlan and understanding the value behind delving into his ways in order to make their game grow.
Mumbai’s preparations for ISL 2016 started on the right note, according to Jacki. “We started pre-season early and it was a long one. We learnt new things. Whatever the head coach has taught us, both on and off the field has been extremely beneficial and has given us valuable experience. In practice a few players suffered some injuries but the squad is being managed well. The final XI is still not clear but the training has gone very well.”
Their Dubai camp was also well received among the players. Mumbai drew two games and won two and coach Alexander Guimaraes talked about how they had tested out some formations and had a good idea of how to go about their campaign.
Jackie’s opinion about the camp was similar as he talked glowingly of the skills that were imparted during the training sessions. He said, “In the Dubai camp, the technical aspects and the ‘with ball’ skills were honed. All foreign players and young and give their all in the pitch. Everyone fights and the training has good intensity.”
As a player who regularly looks to score goals and assist, Jackie believes his best position is of that of a winger. Mumbai plan on deploying him in the right and Jackie agrees with his clubs positioning, saying, and “Right wing is my best position. I began football in midfield and played for 6-7 years in that position. At Royal (Wahingdoh), the coach asked me to play in the wings because of my pace. I was played in both left and right wing positions and since then I’ve become very effective in these positions.
With a goalscorer like Forlan up front, expect the Manipuri to rack up plenty of assists as the games come flying in thick and fast.
Most recently it was Jackie’s national performance that grabbed eyeballs. Played as a winger in the national team setup, the 24-year-old scored his first national goal for the country against Puerto Rico at the Andheri Sports Complex in Mumbai. His immediate thought after the goal was to go and celebrate with coach Stephen Constantine and when asked about it, Jackie replied, “I scored for my coach. Before the match he asked me to get on the scoresheet and said that I should definitely grab a goal against Puerto Rico. So I ran to celebrate my first international goal with him.
Scoring a goal for India means a lot to Jackie. His intensity during this exclusive conversation with Firstpost, returned with a vengeance when he talked about his omission from the India squad before the games against Laos.
“I wasn’t able to give Constantine what he wanted,” said Jacki. “But this time around I was ready to play exactly as he wanted. Then the Laos match happened, and I performed really well at that time. After that opportunity I have continuously been to the national camp and eventually ended up scoring the goal against Puerto Rico.”
His admiration for Constantine came through yet again as he said, “The coach always tries to fix my mistakes. He always teaches something new. I try my best to meet him and listen to what he has to say. He gave me my national team debut.”
Now a pivotal figure in India’s attacking impetus, Jacki is keen on showing his quality for club and country. And at 24, his rise to the upper echelons of Indian football makes him a talent to watch out for.