The Manipuri defender wants to fulfill her dream by representing India in the upcoming AFC Women’s Asian Cup…
Shilky Devi of Manipur is just 15 years old. Yet she has been summoned by India women’s national team coach Thomas Dennerby to the ongoing preparatory camp for the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup.
The Swedish tactician has trained her before during his stint as the U17 women’s coach and her performances in the youth team have impressed him to the extent that he had no qualms in allowing her to rub shoulders with seniors like Ashalata Devi and Sanju who are the mainstays of India’s backline.
The teenager has had an intriguing childhood. Unlike many other players, Shilky has been fortunate to have a supportive father in Hemam Suresh Singh, who is himself a football fan and has supported her daughter through thick and thin.
“In my childhood, I used to play with boys as there were not many girls in my village who would play football. My father had no problems and he encouraged me a lot. In my hometown, there is one academy and I got enrolled there. But soon I moved to SAI (Sports Authority of India) Imphal and I trained there for one year,” she narrated to Goal.
However, she soon stepped into the professional setup and started playing for Langthabal Club in Manipur where she was trained by coach Surmala. She began as a striker and scoring goals was her bread and butter.
In the Sub Junior Girls National Football Championship 2018-19, she scored the winner against Odisha to help Manipur lift the title. Her goal scoring prowess continued in the international arena as well and the India U15 team rode on skipper Shilky’s hattrick to kick-start its 2018 SAFF U-15 Championship campaign by thumping Sri Lanka 12-0. In the semi-finals, she scored once again to beat Bhutan 1-0 and seal a berth in the final. She ended the tournament as the joint top-scorer and India won the championship.
Shilky continued to improve in leaps and bounds and in the Tri-nation U17 international tournament in 2019 in India, which included Sweden and Thailand, she was adjudged as the most promising player. However, under Dennerby she has transformed herself into a defender and from scoring goals, she is mastering the art of stopping them in their tracks.
“I loved to score goals and I would copy Neymar’s celebration. But right now I like to follow Sergio Ramos since I am playing as a centre back,” she said. With that, she is also adapting herself to the more rigorous training sessions of the senior national team.
“I had earlier trained under Dennerby Sir, but there’s a lot of difference in intensity in training with the senior team. We have to run a lot more and the drills are also more intense.”
Although she is learning the art of maintaining defensive shape, shooting at goal remains her favourite part of the training routine. Nevertheless, she is aware that to get selected for the final squad of the Asian Cup she has to mature as a defender.
“I have a lot to improve defensively. I need to work on the timings of my tackle and there are a few other areas as well. We have got good facilities here in Jharkhand like gym, good training pitch and I have to make the most of this opportunity. I need to get selected for the Indian team first. That’s my primary aim,” she stated with a steely resolve.
Shilky was disappointed when the 2020 FIFA U17 World Cup was cancelled. But, the national team call-up has brought in a breath of fresh air to her aspirations and ambitions. Needless to say, that it is a monumental task for a teenager to break into the final 23-member squad of the Asian Cup, but given her career trajectory it would not be surprising if she makes the final cut.