Aditi Chauhan, captain and goalkeeper of Indian women's football team (centre), is happy that competition for places in the national team has grown now. Image Credit: AIFF

Dubai: Aditi Chauhan, goalkeeper of Indian women’s football team, had been a trendsetter of sorts when she got a call-up from West Ham United Ladies in 2015 - becoming the first women’s footballer from the country to play in England. And now, she wants more “younger girls” to emulate Manipuri striker Bala Devi.

Bala, currently on a professional contract with Rangers FC, made headlines in January when she the first Indian woman footballer to sign a professional contract (for 18 months) in Europe. “Bala is a gem of a player and her move to Rangers is amazing,” Chauhan said.

“The standard of play, the culture is so different. It’s a total professional set-up in Europe. The experience which she will gain will benefit not just her, but Indian football in general. Whenever she comes back to play for the national team, we’d eagerly wait to hear about her experiences. I am sure she’ll love to share all of that – especially with the U-17 girls. Her knowledge will matter a lot shaping the career of younger girls,” Chauhan said during a Instagram chat on the official handle of All India Football Federation.

 India's Bala Devi has joined Scottish club Rangers.
Bala Devi, Indian women football team's striker (white), was roped in by Scottish giants Rangers for a 18-month contract. Image Credit: AFP

“There’s so much potential in India,” said the 27-year-old, who now plays for Gokulam Kerala FC. “I want more girls to get such exposure and learn from playing against better opponents. With more avenues for younger girls coming up, I am sure there will be others who will follow in Bala’s footsteps.”

Looking at women’s national team, Chauhan highlighted the “unity in diversity” in the current side - saying it is a true representation of secular upbringing.

“When I first started playing for the national team, it was majorly dominated by players from Manipur. But it has become more of a diverse team now. The team has a lot of characters – a pan-Indian representation which helps unify the team.

“The unity in diversity is our core strength – the secret of our bonding. We are all together in the team with one mission – to represent the country. That is what defines us,” she said. “We get to interact with lots of characters from whom we get to learn so much. Everyone has a different story to tell - their journey, struggle, conditions at home, and much more.”

Chauhan also felt that women’s football has adopted a more pan-Indian approach, pushing the quality Manipuri players for a slot in the squad. “The competition for places in the team has grown – everyone is pushing each other. No one is comfortable as there are new kids coming from all over and securing slots in the squad. That’s how the team has grown and the results have come out so well.”