From the farm to the field, Jagdeep is only growing

Jagdeep Singh’s Demeanour Off The Pitch Is One Of A Shy Young Boy, Uncomfortable With Any Praise That Comes His Way. And While The Lad Who Hails From A Family Of Farmers Is Sheepish In His Responses, His Coach Tells Us It Is A Stark Contrast To The Way He Goes About Things Once His Shin Pads Have Been Tucked In…

“Jagdeep!” shouts Naushad Moosa from the touchline. Bengaluru FC’s U18s are out to battle in the Vedanta Youth Cup, in Goa, and in that sticky September heat, one of the defenders has pulled up with an injury. A dramatic wave of hands follows from the touchline, as young Jagdeep Singh takes instructions from Moosa. He plods down the field to shift flanks – from left-back to right-back.

An hour later, the name is heard again, this time the directive is to push forward into an attacking role. It would only be right to see a sense of disbelief from young Jagdeep, but there isn’t; a covert sense of militia takes over the boy, who jogs forward to take his new position. To him, every individual battle on the field is to be met with as though it is the last one he will face.

“I am sure that if I asked Jagdeep to try his hand at goalkeeping, he would not bat an eyelid. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to his teammates either, because that’s what he brings to the table. He’s the soldier in our team, ready to carry out whatever order is given to him, no questions asked. I wouldn’t be going too far if I likened him to Khabra, the way he behaves on the pitch. He is a fighter in every sense of the word,” says Moosa.

It is an enormous compliment for the 19-year-old, who is firm in his belief that there are far too many bridges and roads to cross before he can dream of being mentioned in the same sentence as the Bengaluru number 10.

“I don’t know how to react to something like that. Khabra paji is an inspiration, and I consider myself lucky to wear the same badge as him. But that’s it, I have so much work to do before I can have my name taken in the same breath as his. No one in my family has ever played professional sport, and not many people in my village play football either. It was not something I grew up knowing much about,” says Jagdeep.

On the phone from Alipur, a tiny village fifty klicks south of Ludhiana, Jagdeep has to step out of his house to find a quiet place. “Ours is a farming community and we are a joint family. Here in Alipur you are born, you grow up on the fields, you get a basic education and then you pick up the sickle and the rake. For some reason, a ball fell at my feet and I liked the sight of it. My parents were happy that I was doing something different and I joined an academy in Gurdaspur. That’s when everything changed.”

Despite being scouted to be a part of the preliminary squad at the FIFA U17 World Cup in 2017, Jagdeep didn’t make the cut to the final list. All of 16 years old, he returned to Punjab with his sights set on success.

“When someone tells you that you’re almost good enough for something, then you want to be good enough for it, and even better. I was upset that I didn’t make the list, but I admit that I wasn’t good enough then. I swore to keep on fighting and working hard, and that’s what got me here today,” says Jagdeep, the grit in his voice evident as ever.

Scouted by Moosa at the BC Roy trophy, Jagdeep was drafted into the club’s U18 setup in early 2019. One year down the line, he found himself signing a contract with the club’s reserve team – a step closer to some of the biggest names in Indian football. “I didn’t know BFC coaches had come to watch that tournament. In fact, it was only a few days later that I heard that someone from BFC had asked about me. I really hadn’t made it anywhere, but just to make a good impression with Moosa sir felt like an achievement. Everyone who knows Indian football knows him and what he has achieved. Sometimes I get the feeling that watching him stand on the touchline is a learning experience too.”

It was a sweet beginning after what had been a bitter few months for Jagdeep, who lost his paternal uncle, Karamjit Singh, to a heart-attack earlier that year. “We are a big family, and all of us have to fend for each other. My parents have always backed me and believed in me, but it was my uncle who supported me the most. He always told me that I would do something big and when he passed away, it felt like everything had come crashing down. Even today, when I go onto the pitch, I think about him. I know he’s watching and I know he’s telling me there are bigger things to come.”

Jagdeep has made waves since signing for the club, with his versatility and industry proving a valuable asset to the club’s youth development program. In a setting that allows him to focus on football while also helping his parents back home, Jagdeep says the path ahead is clear.

“I love playing football more than anything. Back in Alipur, I have nothing else but a farm to go to. Everyone in my family wants me to keep playing and to do well because they know how I can help them if I make it. Yes, joining the reserve team is a big step for me. But it’s still many steps short of where I want to be. My family, my coaches, my friends, everyone’s always telling me how I can do it. And I don’t want to let them down.”