Ngangom Bala Devi from Manipur’s Bishnupur district will be playing professional football in Scotland. She has signed an 18-month deal with Scottish giants Rangers FC that makes her the first women footballer in India to have a professional contract with an overseas club. This historic move was facilitated by Bengaluru FC, who have a partnership with Rangers, and could be categorised as a marketing exercise. But few would debate against the performances Bala Devi has been putting over the last few years.
Bala Devi, born to a football-playing father, took to the field along with her elder brother. Soon, more girls joined in and her hometown Irengbam got its first-ever football team for women. Bala Devi seems to have made a habit of breaking into uncharted territory since that age. She has scored 52 goals in 58 appearances for the national team and netted 38 times in her first two seasons of the Indian Women’s League. Even during her week-long trial for the Rangers in Glasgow last November, she was finding the net.
“I scored twice in one of the games we played among the players at Rangers during my trial,” Bala Devi said. The 29-year-old was quietly confident of being offered a contract by the Scottish club and the faith in her performance she had put in during her week in Glasgow was noticeable. “I had given my best, so I wasn’t nervous. The coach there told me that he was pleased with the technical and tactical side of my training and I only needed to work a bit more on my fitness. Overall it was a good week of training for me,” Bala said.
The experience gave Bala confidence that Indian players could cut it at that level, but also offered a dose of reality that plenty of work needs to be done by the players. “The players are better than us physically and technically, but we are not far behind. The aspect where we need to work most is the tactical side of things. Indian players must develop that understanding to play in Europe. However, I felt that it is not beyond our capabilities and we can do it,” she said. Having played for the Indian national team for 14 years, Rangers seems like a natural progression for her. It remains to be seen if she can continue her scoring touch in a much bigger league.