Before the start of the season, Chennaiyin FC coach John Gregory while unveiling his 25-member squad to the media, went on to describe a particular Indian midfielder as 'our tiger'. This was after the team's pre-season in Thailand during which the Englishman must have seen something in that 25-year-old.
The adjective was meant for Bikramjit Singh who has gone on to live up to the moniker his coach bestowed upon him this season. He has made 13 appearances this season, despite picking up a niggle along the way, and has been a sturdy presence in midfield alongside Dhanpal Ganesh for the Marina Machans.
He provides energy and bite to Gregory's midfield and performs the box-to-box midfielder's role with aplomb, making him a vital asset for the team.
Bikramjit has plied his trade at FC Goa and ATK in the ISL in the previous seasons. He was contracted to Mohun Bagan in the I-League where he performed admirably under Sanjoy Sen. In fact, he was offered a big contract by the Mariners but Bikramjit opted for the lure of the Indian Super League (ISL), something that has benefitted both parties.
"I had a good opportunity at Mohun Bagan. Everybody at the club, including the coach, wanted me to stay and I was given a big offer as well. I chose an ISL offer because I already have three years of experience in the ISL," he said in an exclusive interview with Goal.
"The facilities are good. We have better training and everything is good (compared to the I-League). A player’s quality of life improves in the ISL. There is a lot of care for us even when we get injured.
"Players perform in the I-League and then come to the ISL. So the I-League is also important. But ISL was like a dream come true for us. I got to play with stars that we have seen on TV during our childhood. I got to play with Lucio at FC Goa. I got to learn from people like him day in, day out. I was coached by a legend in Zico," regales Bikramjit.
The Gurdaspur-born player went on to highlight why Chennaiyin FC have had success this season, reaching the play-offs yet again.
"I think Chennaiyin FC are a different kind of team. There is a family atmosphere here. The owners, Abhishek (Bachchan) sir and Vita (Dani) ma’am, they come for all games. Even the other officials, we are all like a family. We have a lot of motivation here to play. Our group here is very good."
Bikramjit revealed that though he did not come from a family which is associated with or promotes sports, he had an interest in football right from an early age. It was the opening of a football academy in his native district gave him the breakthrough. He has not looked back ever since.
"Nobody in my family plays football. My father was the Sarpanch in our village and nobody in my home would support sports. Several men used to play football in our village. I used to bunk school and go play football with them. I would be thrashed black and blue when I return," he stated with a smile.
"My father used to get angry at me and asked me to study more. He would say only education will help me.
"Then we had a football academy which opened in my district and I got a chance to play for Punjab U13 team from there. Then I was called up for the India U13 team and I was the captain. I got to play in the U16, U19 teams from then on," he added.
The former Mohun Bagan midfielder asserts that he has a winning mentality in him that has seen him win the I-League and the ISL in the previous seasons apart from other trophies. He targets the ISL yet again this year.
"My grandmother used to tell me, I had a fighting mentality in me and I don’t like losing. I want to win every time I play, no matter where it is. I think, in almost seven years of professional career, I have won a trophy on at least five seasons.
"I’ve reached the ISL semifinals thrice (four times now) and I have won it once. Hopefully, we can win this season a well. My target everytime is that I should bring a trophy home to my parents."
In fact, Jewel Raja and Bikramjit are the only players to have taken part in the ISL play-offs every single year so far.
The 25-year-old also wants to represent the Indian national team and feels his qualities as a midfielder give him an advantage when it comes to being selected for the Blue Tigers.
"I’ve played in all India junior teams and my goal is to play well in this season’s ISL and get selected for the India senior team.
"I work hard everyday and If I can perform more in my role, I might get selected. Every player has his strengths. But I think I can play in attack and defence. I like them both and I am two-footed. Hopefully, I would get a chance to play for India."