For some, Sandesh Jhingan’s standout performances in the Indian Super League were not a surprise. The 21 year old player, hailing from Punjab, had been India’s lynch pin when India entertained Pakistan, and was once again a standout performer in India’s pathetic Asian Games campaign. Operating as a Center Back in India U-23, there was something about Jhingan’s performances, which neither fans nor critics, had witnessed in India’s center backs, in the past. The tall imposing figure of Jhingan, played with his heart out on the pitch,similarly like our current Indian team captain, Sunil Chhetri, in attack. However, what distinguished Jhingan, was his sixth sense, which sensed danger in defense, and automatically rushed to steer it away. Tactically, Jhingan, was as perfect as Center Backs come. Operating alongside, Joyner for India U-23, Jhingan, often covered up for mistakes made by his partner. His ability to play the ball from the back, perfectly, was once again an attribute, which distinguished Jhingan, in the heart of defense.

Roped in by Kerala Blasters- Sandesh Jhingan was ‘just’ another emerging Indian player, who would succumb to the backdrop of ‘Glamour’ football, asserted many critics. Surprisingly or unsurprisingly, depends on your point of view, Jhingan, unlike many Indian talents, has quiet easily been the best Indian player in the Indian Super League and Kerala’s lynch pin in defense. The 21 year old, started his Super League journey, in his favored position of Center Back, deployed alongside make-shift Central Defender Gurwinder Singh, against Chennaiyin FC. Swiftly shuffled to the left side of the defense, Jhingan, was deployed as a left back, in games to come, to make way for Cedric Hengbart in the heart of defense. Some players quiet easily succumb to challenges faced, when deployed in an alien position. But, not Jhingan. The man who helped United Sikkim qualify for the I-League, proved his steele and meetle when deployed as a left back and often dished out standout performances. Like a fish to water, Jhingan took to this new position.

Surprisingly, Jhingan’s ability to link defense with attack, and often initiate overlapping runs – given that he was a center back, with no freedom to do so- caught the eyes of many. His ability to play ball from the back, proved a life saver for Kerala Blasters’ and often transited a defensive stance into attacking. Jhingan quiet easily tamed his opposing forwards, with sheer tactical knowledge and often reading play, correctly. If his performances, as a left back were not enough to stamp his authority as perhaps one of the best defenders of the Indian Super League, Jhingan’s stint as a right back more than asserted his playing abilities and stood evidence of his unparalleled talent.

Sandesh, once again, cherished life as a Right Back. However strange as it may seem, a Central Defender, Sandesh Jhingan, has been played as a Left Back and as a Right Back, alongwith his traditional position of a Center Back. Perhaps, this unmatched versatility, is what sets him apart from the rest of the Indian defensive crop and gives him an edge over others. Moreover, his ability to dish out consistent performances, equally in all three position, adds another feather to his cap.

When inquired about his ability to fill in as a Center Back, a Left Back and a Right Back, Jhingan laughed off, and said that he is comfortable to play in any position, even as a striker, given his team wins.

Although, Sandesh attributes his excellent performances to his coach David James’, the 21 year old feels that he is improving every game.

“ai???I see myself playing better by each game. I was tired in the first game. So, in the second game, the coach (David James) could have sent me out saying, ai???This is not working for you.ai??? But he didnai??i??t, and thatai??i??s how you improve when thereai??i??s someone behind you.” explained Jhingan, when Kerala Blasters squared things off against Delhi Dynamos.

Sandesh, has also bagged praises from David James himself, who hailed his ‘never say die’ and ‘playing his heart out on the pitch’ attitude.

Given his stellar performances, Jhingan has garnered suitors for his services and according to Times Of India, the 21 year old, could be on his way to Europe or USA.

“There are some interesting offers from Europe and United States. Whether it will eventually lead to him playing abroad, we are not sure but going abroad is definitely an option,” said Anuj Kichlu from the Football Edge, the agency that is representing him, while talking to Times Of India.Ai??

Showcasing maturity, in a position where experience is of paramount importance, Jhingan has started a staggering fourteen times for Kerala Blasters, in defense. Operating in one of the meanest defenses, Sandesh has also indulged in attack and has two assists to his name. Perhaps, it was fitting that a man of his stature and ability, was rightly awarded the ‘Emerging Player Of The Indian Super League’.

Like a surreal dream, Jhingan has cherished life in the Super League and given his expertise the 21 year old has been the best Indian player of the tournament. Living perhaps his dream, Jhingan reminds himself, that all this is natural and a reward of his hardwork. The 21 year old himself has been left astounded of his capabilities and concluded his Super League journey saying, “First of all, you have to pinch yourself and tell yourself that itai??i??s really happening. Itai??i??s been great for me, I couldnai??i??t have asked for anything better,

The heavy mantle of responsibility could prove hefty for some players, but like his ability to annihilate dogmas, be it playing in an alien position or displaying defensive maturity, uncommon for a 21 year old, Sandesh Jhingan is perhaps the country’s best bet in defense, and his performances in the Indian Super League are an evidence of that. He has however been prone to injury which has seen him miss a lot of action in I-League in the last couple of seasons. Given time, the 21 year old will improve and harness his skillset, which already possess varied traits, to thwart opposing forwards and if he can keep himself fit, he will no doubt be an asset to the national team which has leaked a lot of soft goals recently.

Picture Courtesy: ISL Media TeamAi??

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