Sandesh Jhingan wins AIFF Men’s Footballer of the Year, Suresh Wangjam is best Emerging Player

Sandesh Jhingan turned 28 on Wednesday while Suresh Wangjam will celebrate his 21st birthday next month.

By Utathya Nag
Picture by AIFF Media

Indian national football team and ATK Mohun Bagan defender Sandesh Jhingan has been named the AIFF Player of the Year for 2020-21. Bengaluru FC midfielder Suresh Singh Wangjam, meanwhile, bagged the AIFF Men’s Emerging Footballer of the Year award for up-and-coming talents.

The annual recognitions are given out by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) after coaches from different clubs vote for the winners. Last year, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu received the AIFF Player of the Year crown while midfielder Anirudh Thapa was the best emerging player.

After an injury-riddled start to his career, Chandigarh footballer Sandesh Jhingan shot to fame after representing Kerala Blasters FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2014. The centre back won both the AIFF  and ISL’s Emerging player award that year.

Sandesh Jhingan made his senior India debut in 2015 and has been one of the core members of the national team alongside Sunil Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. He has also captained the Indian team on several occasions.

The burly defender, who turned 28 on Wednesday, enjoyed a fine 2020-21 season. Having signed a mega deal with Kolkata giants ATK Mohun Bagan, Jhingan helped his side reach the ISL 2020-21 final.

Jhingan was an integral part of the team that qualified directly for the third round of the AFC Asian Cup 2023 qualifiers. The campaign included a historic draw against Asian champions Qatar.

“Being voted by club coaches of the ISL and the I-League as the AIFF Men’s Footballer of the Year 2020-21 is a huge honour for me. I take this award as a motivation to do better and inspire others to follow their passion for the sport,” Sandesh Jhingan told AIFF.

“A big thank you to AIFF, my family, my team-mates, support staff and all my coaches both at the club level, and at the national level for keeping their belief in me. And a big hug to all those teachers and well-wishers who have stood by me all throughout. This award comes with a huge responsibility – not to let anyone down.”

Jhingan was also conferred with the Arjuna award in 2020. 

For medio Suresh Singh Wangjam, the Emerging Player award was recognition of a brilliant couple of years. Having represented India in the 2017 FIFA Under-17 World Cup, Suresh Singh Wangjam started making waves in senior football in the 2019-20 season after impressing for Bengaluru FC in the ISL.

India coach Igor Stimac rewarded the youngster with his maiden senior cap in March 2021 during a joint Asian and World Cup qualifier match against Oman. The midfielder has made four more appearances for the national team since.

The 20-year-old Manipuri was also a mainstay in the Bengaluru squad throughout the last ISL season.

“This award will improve my self-belief and will motivate me to achieve further success in the future,” Suresh Singh Wangjam said.