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Robin Singh opens up about East Bengal, Igor Stimac and Indian football | Football News

Considered to be one of the best strikers in modern Indian football history, Robin Singh has been one of the known names among fans in the country. The 33-year-old currently represents SC Bengaluru in the Bangalore Super Division. The striker began his footballing education at the Chandigarh Football Academy, but was released in 2005 and then joined the reputed Tata Football Academy in Jamshedpur. Initially a winger, Robin was converted into a striker during his TFA days and soon caught the attention of Kolkata giants East Bengal, who signed him in 2010. The move happened after Robin scored a brace during a friendly between Tata FA and East Bengal, which also knocked them out of the IFA Shield (their quickest exit from the tournament in their history).

Robin Singh during a match for India.(PTI)
Robin Singh during a match for India.(PTI)

With East Bengal, he became a crowd favourite and also began to feature for the Indian national team. In 2013, he moved to Bengaluru FC, who were then in the I-League. Since leaving Bengaluru in 2015, he has represented the likes of FC Goa, ATK, Pune City, Hyderabad FC and Real Kashmir.

In international football, he represented India U16, U23 and at senior level. He made his senior debut on August 25 2012 during the Nehru Cup against Maldives in Delhi. He came in as a substitute, with India winning 2-0. With India, he won the SAFF Championship in 2015 (runners-up in 2013), Nehru Cup in 2012 and Tri-Nation Series 2017.

In an exclusive interaction with Hindustan Times, Robin spoke about his footballing education and career. The striker also shared his opinion on India’s performances under head coach Igor Stimac. Here are the excerpts-

Question: During your childhood, you played both cricket and football. So what made you decide to take up football over cricket?

Answer: I think football runs in the family. My grandfather was a footballer. He played and organized the Durand Cup till he passed away. He was also a part of the Helsinki Olympics team that was there as well. But that being said, it was a very easy decision. You know, I just got asked one day what I would like to do by my parents and it was as easy as saying I want to play football. So, yes it’s been a long and beautiful journey ever since.

Question: What was your main inspiration behind playing football?

Answer: I think more than inspiration there was joy. The happiness I got from kicking a ball around was a little higher than that being said to being a cricketer. And then that’s that you know that was the inspiration and that was the joy if you wanna call it that. I just enjoyed playing football. It’s the happiness that I still get from kicking a ball around now as well and that’s what kept me going throughout my career. This is just the joy of being able to play football.

Question: After Chandigarh Football Academy dropped you, you joined Tata Football Academy. What was the reason behind their decision to drop you and how did the move to TFA happen?

Answer: I wanted to make sure that I can continue playing football. I got told that without any reason as such that I will never become a footballer and thank you for your time and that was it. I packed my bags, booked a one-way ticket to Jamshedpur and asked Ranjan Chowdhury who was there at that point of time, “Sir, could I request you for a trial and if you think I have the ability to play football i would love to be a part of Tata Football Academy and if I am not. At least the best in the country has said no that you don’t have it and that was the idea from when Chandigarh dropped me as I will never become a footballer. Tata Football Academy gave me the opportunity which I am grateful for and that was the beginning of the journey.

Question: How was your mental health at that time as mental health wasn’t really spoken about during those years in India?

Answer: I think everyone has two sides to it. You can either just get sad and accept it or you can learn from it and try going forward with it. I was on the latter part of it but obviously when someone says you will never become a footballer you question yourself, you question your abilities, you question your decisions. So what was my mental health at that point of time? It was a big question mark. Am I doing the right thing or not? But that being said, I think it’s imperative that we speak about mental health now in our country as well as much as its being spoken of in Europe because genuinely the last couple of years I have taken the help of mental coaches or psychiatrists or psychologists and they have helped me.

They have made me stronger mentally as well which in turn has provided me to play harder, play longer, play with a lot more confidence on the pitch as well.so I think it’s great that our country is moving towards it and I hope a lot more players do have the confidence to go speak because football in general as much as its physical, it’s a lot to do with mental. You know 5 to 7 days, when you are training for that weekend game, a lot of questions get asked by yourself in your own head before that game and I think it’s important to always be confident in your decision, always be confident in your abilities and make sure you can take that into your game day so it’s important.

Question: How was your East Bengal experience?

Answer: The fans in East Bengal actually made me feel at home, you know, the club in general was excited for me to join as much as I was excited to play for East Bengal, one of the biggest clubs in the country or one of the oldest clubs in the history of Indian football. So, I was excited to join the fans and made me feel at home. Culturally as well for me it’s just the happiness. I do not mind exploring new culture, you know, finding out and reliving or refinding new places and that’s there and at the same time, my mom is from Calcutta so it kind of made me feel at home. My mom is from Calcutta, the fans got to know and you know at one point I was just called the “boy came home”, so that’s important .That just made me feel at home or just I think it’s a very family culture in Calcutta and they just said you know the “son is home” which in Bengali is beautiful.

Question: What led you to leaving East Bengal in your first stint there?

Answer: I think the club decided that they did not want me to be a part of their plans and then when BFC came, the idea that BFC brought to the table was very interesting. A club that had big aspirations and I wanted to be a part of that and Sunil was going there as well. We had a big conversation as well saying, “listen I am here as well”. That just strengthened that decision of mine to go to Bangalore and that was that. I think both me and East Bengal had different views at that point of time and I just decided I want to go to Bangalore and it was a great decision. I went there and I won the title as well in the first year. The team is one of my favorite teams. The boys in that team are one of my favorite boys to win games with. It was an amazing experience to be a part of Bangalore’s first ever title.

Question: What’s your analysis of ISL? Is it helping the national team?

Answer: I think transition takes time. Let’s break it down a little for you with the national team as such. When Igor Stimac took control, a lot of people questioned where are the wins, where are the results and now we finally see results. With that being said, we should bring it down to club football now. I have seen Indian football grow. There are a lot of names being spoken now that are playing for the national team. It is the highest league in the country. When you do things, things get questioned. Has it helped improving in football? A 100 percent yes. Is there a longer journey to go? Yes. But at the same time, if clubs need to be performing well, the league cannot be blamed.

It’s the club’s decision or the club’s views that have to be helped out and that have to be in line with winning things and if the club’s in line to win things,why not? You got Mumbai city as an example. You got Odisha FC now, who are winning games. You have got East Bengal now back in the ranks. You have got Mohun Bagan Super Giant,we have seen a great East Bengal team being built. BFC’s always been there. So we are competing in Asia. The wins will come. It’s about being patient and improving and learning from your losses.

Question: Do you have any India comeback plans?

Answer: I don’t have any such plans. I love being pit-side. I love commentating and you know reporting and being an expert from the side of the pitch. I want to be able to help younger generation, with understanding that football is not just about 90 minutes. You also have to focus on your diet, focus on what you eat, focus on your supplements.

Myprotein (Robin is their brand ambassador) and we believe in the same goals where your nutrition, your supplementation is as important as football. If you recover well, rest well, you diet well, it’s great. You will perform better. I think these are a couple of things I am working on and apart from that, I have got a podcast which I am building upon, where I want to portray Indian football in a different light and hopefully that comes out soon as well.

Question: Finally, your opinion on Igor Stimac replacing Stephen Constantine as the India head coach?

Answer: I think the results for Igor Stimac speaks for itself. You have got 400-plus minutes of India not losing a game. Eleven games unbeaten. So those results speak for Stimac the same. Whereas Stephen Constantine stepped down, that’s a decision that he took himself. For me, he is a great guy, he is a great coach as well but that being said,everybody has decisions to make and decisions to take and he decided it’s his time to leave and Stimac is proving that why he is here. Ge is emotional, he is very very connected to Indian football. We are at the Asian Games because he also had his hand in making sure that he pushes the team to go to the event. So he is doing his bit and he is doing a great job at it. The results are there to speak for itself.

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