When Sandesh Jhingan signed for Kerala Blasters at the age of 21, all he wanted was to make a statement.
He had played for a few teams in the I-League but the ambitious youngster wanted to prove that he can take his game to the next level. Six seasons with Kerala Blasters and now he is set to leave the club having made a remarkable impact on the supporters and also on his own professional career.
Despite the heartbreaking defeats, poor recent results and a revolving door of managers, Jhingan was a constant at the club. He started out by winning the Emerging Player of the Year in 2014 and soon became one of the first names on the team sheet after consistent displays at the back.
Jhingan's career also grew with the growth of Kerala Blasters. The tall, bearded, tough-tackling defender generated an impressive fan following and became a household name in Kerala. His attitude on the field backed up the claims of the fans that he is a player who gives it all.
Looking back at his seasons with Kerala Blasters, there were two prominent incidents that tested the mental strength of the player. In 2018, following a spat with the then Blasters coach Rene Meulensteen, Jhingan was criticised and tagged by the Dutchman as unprofessional. The player did not let that criticism affect his performances on the pitch and was always up to the task when in yellow colours.
The 2019-20 season started on a terrible note for the defender. He picked up a bad ligament injury in India's practice match against NorthEast United before the season kicked off and was soon ruled out for the whole season.
From thereon, it was a long road to recovery that required immense strength of the human mind and a strict, disciplined routine. He started individual training by the end of the season and is currently on the verge of a full recovery.
The 26-year-old has played 76 ISL matches for Blasters and holds the record for having played the most number of games for the Yellow Army. He's been part of the journey from the start but all journeys must come to an end.
Credit must also go to the Kochi-based club to have identified the potential in Jhingan and having backed him to the hilt. The defender was the club's automatic choice as one of two retentions when the Indian player draft was held ahead of the 2017-18 season.
The player can be proud of his growth at the Kochi-based club and does owe a lot to the people who hired him as a young centre-back. The road ahead is challenging but Sandesh Jhingan, as usual, will be up for the task.