On Wednesday night at the Bangabandhu National Stadium in Dhaka, two 22-year-olds from Punjab were making India proud in their semi-final clash against arch-rivals Pakistan.
While Manvir Singh scored a well-taken brace, young Davinder Singh put in a solid shift at right back in India’s 3-1 win.
Over a year ago or so, putting on the India jersey at the SAFF (South Asian Football Federation) Championship would have been unfathomable for the two players.
In March last year, Manvir scored the winning goal for West Bengal in the Santosh Trophy final against Goa. A product of the Minerva Punjab academy, Manvir’s 119th-minute added time goal had helped Bengal capture their 32nd title. Bengal had then become his adopted home after he signed for Mohammedan Sporting in 2016.
Meanwhile, Davinder was turning out for Punjab University in the Inter-Varsity Championship. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) organised a scouting camp in Mumbai, led by Director of National Teams Abhishek Yadav, for picking players for the India U23 team, in which Davinder and Manvir caught the eye of the scouts.
Subsequently, both the players were called up to India’s U23 squad for the AFC (Asian Football Federation) U23 Championship qualifiers. India might not have booked their ticket to AFC U23 Championship’s main event but Manvir and Davinder did enough to impress coach Stephen Constantine. Both the players had caught the eye in India’s win over Turkmenistan with Manvir even bagging a goal for himself.
Soon, the Englishman was calling up both the youngsters to the senior national team’s camp ahead of the Tri-Nations Cup in Mumbai also involving Mauritius and St. Kitts and Nevis. In doing so, Davinder had become only the third player after Abhishek Yadav and Eugeneson Lyngdoh to be fast-tracked from the University level to the senior Indian team.
While Davinder was unfortunate to not make the final cut for the tournament, Manvir garnered a couple of substitute appearances in the games against Mauritius and St. Kitts and Nevis.
By then, both the players had bagged themselves maiden contracts in the Indian Super League. Manvir was snapped up by FC Goa while Davinder was signed by Mumbai City FC for the fourth edition of the ISL.
Despite their young ages, both the Punjab-born players notched up plenty of minutes for their respective ISL teams. Davinder made a total of 14 appearances for Alexandre Guimaraes’ Mumbai while Manvir made nine for Sergio Lobera’s Goa although most of them came from the bench.
Even though the pair might not have featured heavily for their ISL teams, the strides both players have made in the past year or so is astounding to say the least.
The improvement in their general gameplay has also been clear to see in the SAFF Championship and it is no wonder that the pair continue to be on Constantine’s good books.
Davinder has always been a robust defender with an imposing physical presence and his game and positional awareness has come on leaps and bounds. Manvir, meanwhile, seems to have really prospered under Lobera’s attacking philosophy and his off-the-ball movement and link-up play has been a joy to watch at times in the SAFF Championship.
Come Saturday, both the players could be lining up once again for the Blue Tigers in their summit clash against the Maldives. Come what may in the final at Dhaka, both the youngsters can depart the stadium with their heads held high due to how far they have come in a short span of time.
If they continue with the same rate of progression, then sky is the limit for both Manvir and Davinder.