Bembem Devi, the country’s most decorated woman footballer, feels that the robust domestic structure has laid the “foundation stone” for the senior national team to do better in the international stage.
“Tournaments such as the Senior National Football Championships lay the foundation stone for a strong women’s national team,” Bembem said on the sidelines of the ongoing Senior Women’s Championships.
“All the players in the national team have come through the ranks from sub-junior, junior and senior national championships. It always helps them to gain experience and hone their skills which eventually proves to be handy while representing India in the international stage,” she added.
The former India captain said “young girls rubbing shoulders with the senior players in Indian Women’s League (IWL) is equally advantageous for the players in the long run”.
Of late, the average age of the senior women’s national team has gone down significantly, and Bembem believes it has happened mainly because of the domestic competition structure.
“During my initial days, there were few girls who were 19 or less. With time, more youngsters have started to get selected for the national team. As a result, the average age has gone down which is a major positive side of the National Championships. It couldn’t have been possible without the domestic tournament structure,” she stated.
“I remember Bala [Devi], Prameshwori [Devi], Pyari [Xaxa] and a few other girls came into the national team set-up quite early. I still remember they were very shy and I tried to break the ice so that they can play freely. Now, they have taken up the mantle,” said the Arjuna awardee.
Bembem, who had won 13 Senior National Championships for Manipur, including eight as captain, mentioned Daya Devi as a prime example who got benefited from the system.
“Daya broke into the national team before she was 19. That’s the success story of National Championships and IWL. These girls, with their national team experience go back and help their state teams in the Nationals. This is a cyclic process.”
Defending champions Manipur are known for their fluidity in attacking and their natural scoring ability. They have already scored 35 goals in four matches so far, having conceded only two.
“Manipuri girls grow up together and most of them play together since the sub-junior days which create a strong understanding within the team. That’s the secret of Manipur’s success story,” Bembem said.
“During my playing days, competition amongst Bengal, Odisha, Punjab and Manipur used to be fierce. But at that time, fewer teams used to participate. That trend has changed recently, and the change is boosting women’s football overall.