Jeakson Thounaojam, the scorer of India’s first goal in the Under-17 World Cup, is, in fact, a national team reject. Two years ago, when the national team selectors travelled to scout players from the Chandigarh Football Academy, Jeakson decided to appear for the trials. But then chief coach Nicolai Adam felt, at nearly 6 feet at 14 years, Jeakson was ‘unnaturally tall’ for his age. ‘I did not lose heart and kept on thinking that I will one day make it to the Indian team,’ Jeakson, who prefers ‘Jackson’ on his t-shirt, recently said.
Background of Jeakson
Jeakson, a defensive midfielder hails from Haokha Mamang village in Manipur’s Thoubal district and his father Konthoujam Deben Singh suffered a stroke in 2015 and had to leave his job with the Manipur police.
His family is now dependent on the meagre income brought by his mother from selling vegetables at the Khwairamband Bazar in Imphal, 25km from her home.
Jeakson’s elder brother Jonichand Singh is also a contributor to the income as he is currently playing for Peerless club in Kolkata Premier League but that has not made much of a difference to their family back home.
Getting the chance
The 16-year-old joined Punjab’s Minerva Academy but the under-17 World Cup looked a world away for him. However, he got another chance when Minerva were invited to play a friendly match with the under-17 team in Goa last April. The local academy defeated what was perceived to be the best bunch of players from India 1-0 and Luis Norton de Matos, Adam’s successor, was impressed by Jeakson.
The Portuguese wasted no time in drafting him into the squad along with three other Minerva players — Nongdamba Naorem, Mohammad Shahjahan and Anwar Ali. On Monday, Jeakson played one of the best matches of his career, dictating play from the midfield alongside his first cousin and India captain Amarjit Singh. He was not doing anything flashy, just picking up loose balls and distributing them well to the forwards. His strong presence in midfield ensured India were not overpowered by the physically superior Colombian players.
Jeakson said that was the biggest lesson for the team. ‘I felt on cloud nine when I scored the goal but it would have been sweeter had we won the match,’ Jeakson told the AIFF. ‘We deserved a result, and we tried our best to get it but in the process we learnt a huge lesson about what international football is all about.’