Ishan Pandita became India's first player to sign a La Liga professional contract after his one-year deal with CD Leganes was made official. Leganes are currently in 11th position in the La Liga table after making a historical leap into the top flight of football in Spain for the first time in their history.
"It's been a tough, hard three years here in Spain but at the end, it was all worth it," Ishan told TOI from Madrid. It feels great to be the first Indian to go down this path. Right from the moment I decided to take a break from studies till now, I never gave up on my dream."
Ishan's signing was welcomed by CD Leganes academy director Jorge Broto Benavente, who said, "What impressed us most about Ishan were his physical attributes and ability to score goals. It's too early to say when he will break into the main team -- he is a young player, a rough diamond to be worked on."
The 18-year old from Bengaluru was all praise for Leganes' youth facilities and told TOI, "We've got a new field for the youth players since we moved to La Liga. The facilities are state-of-the-art and we have a fantastic coaching and support staff. We get a lot of attention and in every training programme; they make you feel as professional as possible. More importantly , everyone is an equal here."
The admiration for his new club did not stop there as he said to The Hindu, “I've been training with the best coaches and players. It has impacted me heavily. The standard of play is miles better than what I was exposed to back home.”
Ishan had been on the fringes of breaking into the La Liga and has slowly but steadily been making his way up the ranks. He made his breakthrough in Spanish football when his potential as a striker was spotted at Alcobendas CF, a feeder club for Atletico Madrid. It was here that an Almeria scout witnessed his football and signed him for the Under-18 team.
In an interview with TOI in 2015, Ishan said, "As part of their U-18 squad, I live and train with the team and play friendlies with other youth teams. If everything goes to plan, I expect to sign a contract in May next year, which will enable me to play the club's official league games."
But his aim to sign for Almeria fell through because he wasn't 18 at the time and as an underage player, he was subject to regulations that disallowed him from signing a professional contract.
Since then, Ishan had trial stints at Getafe but chose not to sign on the dotted lines with them after they were relegated. "I had trials at Getafe (currently in the second tier) in March, and I was very close to signing with them. But they got relegated at the end of the season. The whole point for me was to sign for a La Liga club and then Leganes showed interest," he said to The Hindu.
Ishan will now feature for the U-19 side of Leganes as he still does not have enough experience to compete in the La Liga. The Leganes U-19 side plays in the fourth division of the Spanish league and is the perfect place for the Bengaluru lad to further develop his skills and prepare for an eventual call-up to the main squad.