If you watch Indian midfielder Jeakson Singh go about his way on a football pitch, you would feel he is playing to a different tune compared to the rest on the field.
His loose-limbed approach undersells the pressure he is often under. He is unworried by opponents breathing down his neck as he evades challenges to make a tough play look all too easy. The game flows through the defensive midfielder as much as he flows with the game.
“It comes out of experience. The more you play, the more you know about your mistakes and the better you can improve your skills. I believe there are two types of players. The first one is the naturally talented bunch and then there are guys with a little bit of talent, but with a lot of hard work. I belong to the second group,” says Jeakson.
But, like many, the defensive midfield was never Jeakson’s original calling.
“Like all kids, I wanted to play as an attacker and score goals when I was young. But when I joined the academy in Chandigarh, my coach told me I would be better off as a midfielder. I even tried defence for a while, but soon I understood midfield is where I belong,” said Jeakson, who stars for Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League.
The 22-year-old is well aware of the hidden-in-shadows cloak he has chosen to adorn.
“A midfielder can’t be measured by goals or clean sheets. We are the backbone of the team. We connect the defence to the attack and the other way around. It is a tough job,” he adds with a laugh.
Jeakson, who hails from Manipur, might be the most accomplished footballer in his family, but he is hardly the only one. His cousin, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, stars for Punjab FC in the ISL, while his sister, Kritina Devi Thounaojam, has represented India at youth levels.
Jeakson credits his father, Deben Thounaojam, who represented Manipur Police in football, for the family’s footballing success.
“My father was a huge football fan. But he couldn’t reach where he wanted to. He was a sports lover, but he had a special thing for football. First, he introduced my brother to boxing and then to football. Then Amarjit, me and my sister followed. My father sacrificed a lot to help us to reach where we are today.”
Jeakson’s growth as a footballer received its biggest lift-off when he joined the Chandigarh Football Academy.
“It was a big sacrifice for my family. Amarjit and his brother were already there and that helped me initially. It was a big step in my career. It was a difficult one for me and my family. The first year, I was crying every day – in the school, in the hostel. The food was different. Everything was hard. But that decision moulded the player that I am today.”
Today, Jeakson is one of the most prominent midfielders in Indian football, capable of stamping authority on a game with his brand of delicate finesse. He is also the longest-serving player in the current ranks of Kerala Blasters, a side famous for its hyper-energetic fan base.
Jeakson took the call to join Blasters soon after he starred for the national side in the 2017 Under-17 World Cup, where he became the first Indian to score a World Cup goal. He was, arguably, the hottest property in Indian football then. But his decision was guided by one big factor.
“I did have a few other offers. But Kerala Blasters’ fans helped with my decision. I have always wanted to play in front of a large, passionate crowd. That is why I joined KBFC.”
“The fans give us extra energy. When you feel tired, the power of the fans’ voice helps you make that extra sprint, that extra effort. It makes us feel fearless,” he added.
Despite the unrelenting support offered by the legion of fans, the Blasters have been a side which has often flattered to deceive. But its fortune changed with the arrival of Serbian manager Ivan Vukomanovic in 2021.
The Kochi-based side reached the final in his first year and went on to make the playoffs the previous season, only to be eliminated in a controversial knockout game against Bengaluru FC.
Vukomanovic’s arrival also marked an upturn in Jeakson’s fortunes, with the midfielder becoming a regular feature in the playing XI, often entrusted with anchoring the side from the midfield, a role ISL sides don’t usually hand to Indian players, let alone to one barely out of his teens.
“I think I know what he [Vukomanovic] wants from me and he knows what to expect from me. It’s an honour for me that the coach trusts me so much. It is up to me to prove him right in every training session and every match.”
“He deserves all the love he is getting. The amount of history we have made under him says everything. We all know he is more famous than all the players in our team,” he adds with a chuckle.
Blasters have kickstarted the latest ISL season on a positive note, securing hard-fought wins against Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur FC.
“I am really happy about it. I think this is the first time Kerala Blasters have won the first two games of a season. It is just the beginning. We have a long way to go. We have to stay humble and we have to get better if we want to reach our goals,” says Jeakson.
Jeakson’s growing role with Blasters over the last couple of years also led to him being a constant presence in the national team, with Indian coach Igor Stimac deploying him in a role similar to what he executes with the club.
The defensive midfielder was an integral part of the Indian side which secured the SAFF Championship title and the Intercontinental Cup. Jeakson was the shield in front of the Indian defence, picking up loose balls with hunger and driving the side forward with sharp passes.
“It is always a proud moment when you receive a national team call-up. I love the feeling of representing the country. I hope to continue doing so.”
India is set to embark upon a tough few months, starting with the Merdeka Cup later this month and the AFC Asian Cup in January.
“I am excited about the upcoming challenges. We are going up against some big teams and I want to test my skills against them. We all want to prove that we are no less than anyone and we can beat anyone,” says Jeakson.
It is easy to forget that Jeakson is still only 22, mostly because he has been ever-present in Indian football for half a decade. He was young enough to be picked as a not-a-senior player at the Asian Games and is often as young as the many ‘break-out’ stars of Indian football.
The success he has achieved so early in his career hasn’t dimmed his ambitions.
“Like every footballer, I dream of playing at the highest level. If I get a chance to play at the top level – that is European football – I would love to give it a go.”
“It is hard for an Indian footballer to be spotted. That is why I am looking forward to the international tournaments so that I can showcase my talents on a bigger stage against better opponents.”
Right now, his quest is simple. Bring home a much-awaited title for the adoring ‘Manjappada’, the fan army of the Blasters. And the Yellow Army, shielded by Jeakson, has started on the right note.
- India vs Australia LIVE Score, World Cup 2023: Toss, Playing XI in 15 minutes; Gill ruled out of IND vs AUS in Chennai
- Jeakson Singh, the heart of Kerala Blasters’ midfield, looks to return the love of ‘Manjapada’ with an ISL title
- Asian Games 2023 medals tally updates: October 8 – LIVE – India has its best-ever performance, China tops list
- ICC Cricket World Cup 2023 full schedule: Download pdf, list of games, venues, dates, match time
- NZ vs NED, ICC Cricket World Cup: Williamson continues to be sidelined; Southee, Ferguson in contention