Some athletes take the field as if they are entering a battlefield. They play their hearts out and leave everything on the field. Kerala Blasters have one such warrior in their ranks and they have enjoyed watching him grow as a player for over four years.
Sandesh Jhingan turned 25 in July last year but it feels like he has been playing football for a lot longer. The Kochi crowd is used to seeing him put his body on the line for the club ever since the franchise came into existence.
Why such aggression? Many have asked but Sandesh Jhingan embraces the 'Born in Chandigarh' tag, one which many associates with the players who have a never-give-up attitude.
"When I was a kid, I was always into history. I liked those history characters. I liked reading about Genghis Khan. I was interested in wars. That was one thing that got me as a young boy. Maybe that got carried on into my game. Honestly, I don't think about going into a game like that but it comes naturally," Jhingan recollected as he engaged in conversation with Goal.
"Your passion to win takes over and then you don't care about your body. It is a very bad feeling to lose. I hate to lose, like every footballer."
Having donned the Yellow jersey in all the ISL seasons for a total of 71 games, Sandesh Jhingan has been through all the ups and downs at the Kochi-based club, including two final heartbreaks, both coming against ATK. With one win in 13 matches and their playoff hopes quashed for the second consecutive season, Blasters, known for their incredible supporters, are at a low point in their history.
"That is football, everybody wants to win. We want to win as well. But sometimes things don't go according to the plan. One thing I am proud of with this batch of players is that even when the bad times came, we never stopped working.
"We kept working hard, we always stick together. It is the friendliest squad that I have been part of during my Kerala Blasters career. When the bad results come, a lot of ego clashes and blame games tend to happen but this group, we all support each other.
"Apart from the Mumbai and Goa games where we were properly beaten, we have played really well. We have created chances, it is just that we are missing that final trigger up front and at the back as well. We should have got more points but that is football. ISL is a short league so if you don't find the right gear at the right time, you find yourselves behind," Jhingan said.
On January 21, 2018, as Kerala Blasters hosted FC Goa in the ISL, supporters unfolded a tifo that had a sketch of Sandesh Jhingan's face and the chants of 'We've got Jhingan, Sandesh Jhingan...' reverberated inside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium that housed 30000 fans. 12 months later, the same venue recorded an attendance of 4582, an all-time low figure for Blasters in ISL.
"It is not a good feeling when you don't see the fans in the stadium but can't blame them as well. We haven't done much. They have their reasons for not turning up. Yes, we have not done much this season but one thing I can assure is that we have always worked with an honest heart and tried our best to win. We know they love the club. Sometimes in a relationship, hard times come. Without them, Kerala Blasters are not Kerala Blasters. They are the ones who have put Blasters on the world map."
Blasters are eighth on the table, have a new coach in Nelo Vingada who replaced David James in a managerial change for the second consecutive season. Sandesh Jhingan wants his team to not only to win but also play good football, a combination that he feels is essential to bring the fans back on board.
"Football is a winning-based business like all sports is. It is about winning. But you have to play a good brand of football. To get the fans back, we need to play good football, which we were doing before also. But what we were doing was not enough. Good football and good results go hand-in-hand."
Sandesh Jhingan's future at Blasters is uncertain but he will be with the club, one that helped him grow as a player, through thick and thin and he will once again be the warrior at the back when he takes the field for the next game.