My colleague Pratik Purakayastha and I drove to Haokha Mamang Leikai, a village just off the Indo-Myanmar highway, on a rainy morning in September last year. Every few kilometres we would spot a poster with an image of eight boys in the national football team kit, arms crossed in front of their chests. Wherever we saw these posters, we would stop to ask directions. At one such interval, a young boy crossed us on a bicycle, promptly turned around and motioned for us to follow.
Five days later, Amarjit Singh Kiyam and Jeakson Singh Thounaojam, boys the young cyclist had grown up with in Haokha, were announced as members of the Indian team in FIFA’s under-17 world championship. Eight of the 21 boys representing India were from Imphal and its neighbouring villages in Manipur. But Renedy Singh, a former team captain for India from Awang Sekmai—another village in the north-eastern state—told me that younger players in the state faced several difficulties. “Coaching and other football related facilities have improved a lot, but, still, no one tells them what they are supposed to do if they can’t make it as players or even what to do when their careers end at the age of 30-35,” he said. While residential academies have provisions for classroom education, according to Singh, it is often conducted as a formality and does not account for the fact that players are frequently on the move.
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Siddhanth Aney is a Delhi-based football writer. He has reported on the game extensively. Most of his current work is published on the digital news platform Newsclick.in