Bala Devi is an Indian football icon. She made her senior team debut at the age of 17 and she did not look back since. In the 58 matches she has played for the national team, she has scored 52 goals and is the country’s top scorer. The two-time AIFF Women’s Player of the Year recipient would have been with the Indian team in Mumbai for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup starting January 20 but unfortunately she is currently recovering after her surgery in Bellary, Karnataka.
The Indian women’s football team is ready for its biggest moment in recent years when they take the field against Iran, Chinese Taipei and China in the group stage of the continental competition. They are, however, without their top scorer.
Bala Devi incurred an ACL injury while she was with Rangers FC in Scotland and she had to undergo a surgery. A long journey back to recovery ensued but now, her rehabilitation is almost done. “I feel much stronger and better now. I have already started to do ball work,” Bala shared in a telephonic conversation with News18.com.
Bala did admit that she did feel a tinge of sadness about missing the Asian Cup but she was more of a believer of positive thinking.
“I believe whatever happens happens for good. I don’t get into negative thinking, I try to stay positive. I don’t like to dwell on what has happened but what I can do in the future. Of course I feel bad that Asian Cup is such a great opportunity and I can’t play but whoever is in the squad right now, they are strong and they will do well,” she said.
Even though Bala is not with the team, she said she was in touch with the players and coach Thomas Dennerby and believed in the bunch.
“I believe the players will do very well and make India proud (at the Asian Cup). I believe in this squad.
“I have spoken quite a bit with Dennerby, he is trying to make the bonds in the squad even stronger because that helps the on-field performance a lot. The coach and the players are all focussed on the Asian Cup at the moment,” she stated.
Bala admitted that it “feels great” to see Kamala Devi back in the Indian team. Kamala made a comeback to the team at the tournament in Brazil in December, 2021 for the first time since 2018. Back then she, along with six others (including Bala) had boycotted the team over a fallout with the coaching staff.
HOW DO WE IMPROVE?
Bala said that the fitness levels of the Indian players has improved a lot over the years and the more they keep getting better in that aspect, the more they will be able to match the world. “The spirit within our team is great and we are not very far behind the rest of the world,” she said.
However, she did add “we still need to work a lot more on our ball control.”
Bala stated that the Indian players have the quality but they need more game time if they are not to remain behind compared to the world.
“The game time situation is beginning to improve and in the future, we will have a lot more opportunities to play more and more games. It is important for the federation and the state associations to sit together and plan out the future.
“We don’t plan well for the future. In India, we make teams for the tournaments and then after that, all of it disintegrates. Till the time we don’t plan for the future, we won’t be able to move forward. The federation and state associations need to work on plans to introduce more game time through tournaments at the school and college level to develop quality,” she opined.
As Bala recovers, she has her eyes set on Europe again. Back in January 2020, Bala became the first Indian woman to sign a professional contract in Europe and her focus remains on making it to the continent again.
“I am targeting Europe again in Summer 2022. Of course, if I am fully fit and the IWL (Indian Women’s League) is held before that Summer window, I will play that before going.”
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