India's star striker Bala Devi has joined Scottish club Rangers.
India's star striker Bala Devi has joined Scottish club Rangers. Image Credit: AFP

New Delhi: The first Indian female footballer to sign up with a top-flight club in Europe, Ngangom Bala Devi, hopes that her stint with Scottish side Rangers will inspire others in the country and improve the national team’s profile.

Rangers Women signed the 29-year-old national team forward for 18 months on Wednesday.

“The rate at which women’s football is moving forward (in the country), I hope to see more of these young girls following me to Europe and improving the national team in the future,” she told the All India Football Federation (AIFF).

“We all have seen European football on television or on YouTube, when we were kids, and have dreamt of ourselves playing under such conditions. Now that I have got this opportunity, I want to grab it with both hands and show the country that we can all do well if we work hard and give it our best.”

The player from Manipur is the top scorer for the national women’s team, with an impressive 52 goals in 58 games since 2010, which also makes her the top international goalscorer in the South Asian region.

She has also served as the national team’s captain in a distinguished international career, which began when she was called up aged just 15.

She has been the top scorer in the Indian Women’s League for the past two seasons and has also been named AIFF’s Woman Player of the Year twice, in 2015 and 2016.

Among the men, Mohammad Salim, Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu have played for European clubs in the past. Now, Devi is determined to make a name of herself.

“I really cannot describe how I feel right now,” she said. “Playing in Europe has always been a dream for me, and now it has come true. We all know about the history, the heritage, and the culture that a club like Rangers carries with its name. “I am proud to be associated with a club like that, and it will further motivate me to press forward and improve my game.”

She underwent a week-long trial at Rangers in November last year, after which she came back to help the national team clinch a gold at the 2019 South Asian Games, where she also finished as the top scorer — netting six goals in four games.

“Improvement is something that we all need to do at all times, and I am thankful to the AIFF for providing me with the facilities in the National Team, so that I could keep improving my game,” she added.

“Now, it is time to use this opportunity to further improve myself, as I begin this new chapter in my life.”

Devi said she felt at home in Scotland, where coaches studied her game and helped her ease into the physical style of football played in the country.

“Yes, the style of play is more physical in Scotland, but the coaches really helped me adjust to that during my trial,” Devi said. “They gave me some crucial tips on how to tweak my game in order to suit the physical style and we could really see those results on the pitch,” she said.

Giving a message to the youngsters who will represent the country at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup later this year, Devi said, “Play hard, play for yourself, but most importantly, play for your country. There is nothing greater than wearing the India jersey.”