Twenty of the 21 players selected for the Indian Under-17 team will be hoping to play against the United States in the tournament opener on the sixth of September. One, however, will have his sights set on Colombia on the 9th, the game after the United States game.
Boris Singh Thangjam earned a red card in India’s final group stage game against Iran in last year’s AFC Under-16 championships and a one match-ban in official competitions, subsequently handed to him, will ensure that the fleet-footed right-back will miss the game against the United States.
He has become a regular for the team both under Nicolai Adam and under Luis Norton de Matos, clocking up more than 25 appearances and also notching up crucial goals. He is also one of the few to remain with the team throughout the three years of preparation.
Not that the Manipuri full-back will need any more encouragement to take to the field against the South Americans, but his father, Mohesh Singh Thangjam insists that it will fire Boris up even more.
Boris was born in Imphal and attended school in the capital city of Manipur, where he initially picked up the game. Attending the Brighter East School at Imphal East, Boris practised with a tennis ball at school till he returned home, and then he would, in his own words, head out to the field “to play with the bigger boys.”
His father says that even though the other boys were physically much more powerful, Boris’ speed kept him at par with the other children much older than him and he was competitive. “Initially, he used to run a lot and take part in sprints and races, till he took up football. Still, he wasn’t completely dedicated to the sport at the start.”
The right-back would participate in running races, as part of sports festivals conducted on occasions such as Holi, sometimes even running 5000 metre races at a very young age. The middle child among three siblings, Boris divided his time until his father saw his play football at a field at the age of 11 and was convinced that his son should take up the sport seriously.
“He also played badminton at school and financial conditions weren’t ideal, but I knew that football was the only way for him to live a better life.”
Know India's U-17 Squad
Meet the first Indians playing in a Fifa World Cup
When Boris did finally take up football coaching at the Youth Organisation Sports Club (YOSC) in Imphal, his pace meant that he was always going to be considered for the winger’s role. Biren Singh, coach and co-founder at YOSC, says that he saw a winger in Boris and even played him as a midfielder when he started out and that he was converted into a full-back later.
All this while, the player had a hard-choice himself. The family of five had been going through a difficult time and the grocery shop that Boris’ parents ran to sustain the household had to be shut down.
Mohesh took odd jobs to ensure that his son could continue his career as a footballer but says that Boris wasn’t sure himself. “He could have studied and become an engineer and I told him that too, but in the end, I think he took the right choice.”
Fortunately, he ended up winning a district level tournament in Manipur and was spotted at the tournament by scouts for the state team, which ensured that Boris represented Manipur at the Under-14 nationals in Kalyani.
Captaining Manipur, Boris and his team won the nationals as a significant chunk of the team were selected for AIFF’s Elite Academy. The right-back has since then developed an ability to play on both flanks since then, but must work on his defence, according to one of his former coaches.
The coach, who did not wish to be named, said, “His running is direct but his game needs more balance. There needs to be more work on the transition between attack and defence.” Indeed, Boris showcased this side of his game at the Under-16 AFC Championships held at Goa last year.
A fan of fellow Manipuri speedstar Udanta Singh, Boris romped forward and bagged a goal but was defensively suspect and was caught out of position several times high up the pitch, while the opposition countered. On one of these forays against Iran, he received a second bookable offence and was sent off as his team went down to 10 men.
These are however early days for the speedy 16-year old and de Matos will be hoping that he has his first choice right-back for the last two crucial group stage games. The Portuguese will hope Boris ‘runs’ the show.