Indian Women's Football Captain Ashalata Devi Says 'Need All Countrymen to Support us'

© Photo : All India Football Federation (AIFF)Ashalata Devi
Ashalata Devi  - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.09.2021
Regarded as one of the finest defenders in Asia, Loitongbam Ashalata Devi is the current captain of the Indian women's national football team. The northeastern state of Manipur-born Devi became the second Indian female footballer ever to feature in a foreign league when she participated in Maldives' Dhivehi Women's Premier League in 2015.
Indian women's football skipper Ashalata Devi wants people of the country to support the team during the upcoming AFC Women's Asian Cup, due to be held in the South Asian nation early next year.
The 28-year-old footballer desires jam-packed stadiums, with fans rooting for her team - motivating them, inspiring them and above all, providing them the much-needed confidence to perform exceedingly well. She feels all this may serve as a vital ingredient to give a major fillip to the sport in the country.
In an interview with Sputnik, Ashalata talks of how 2022 can emerge as a image-makeover year for the Indian women's football, and how men's team captain Sunil Chhetri inspires her team in putting up its best show on the field.
She also shares her role models and how Indian Women's League (IWL) has played a vital role in improving the standard of football in the country and much more.
Sputnik: Do you think the year 2022 could be a landmark year for Indian women's football, considering the country will be hosting the AFC Women's Asian Cup and the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup?
Ashalata Devi: Obviously, it is a great opportunity for us to showcase our talent and skill on a global stage, as we will be hosting the AFC Women's Asian Cup and the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup.
Major teams like Australia, Japan and South Korea will participate in the AFC Cup and we will get a great platform to compete against these world class sides.
If we perform well in the tournament, it would open a door for our participation in foreign leagues. Definitely, I feel there would be massive changes in Indian women's football due to the AFC Cup and the U-17 World Cup.
Sputnik: What it means to you to be able to play the AFC Women's Asian Cup in India?
Ashalata Devi: We haven't got many opportunities to play in front of our home fans. I think the stadiums will be packed to capacity during the tournament. When the U-17 Men's World Cup happened in India in 2017, the stadiums were jam-packed and there was massive support from the crowd.
Crowd support tends to have a positive impact on the players and I am hopeful of a similar kind of support from the people of the country, which would certainly motivate the women's team to do really well in the AFC Cup.
Crowd support is extremely important for us. We feel extremely proud and delighted to see a large crowd in the stadium. It boosts our confidence to perform well. We hope to get all the love and support from the fans and want to see stadiums packed to the rafters during our matches.
I appeal to our countrymen that the national women's team needs their support because without their support we will not be able to perform well, or set an example for future generations. That's why I want the whole country's support - please come out in large numbers and support us.
Sputnik: Sunil Chhetri once admitted that the women's team is better than the men's side. How do you view that statement?
Ashalata Devi: Sunil Chhetri is India's biggest football legend and a lot of players in our team have been inspired by him. We have learnt a lot from him. Even his admission that we are better than the men's team has been inspiring us. I respect him immensely as a footballer and would like to replicate his success on the field.
Sputnik: How has the Indian Women's League (IWL) helped in shaping women's football in India?
Ashalata Devi: Before the commencement of IWL, we used to compete in only one tournament in a year. But since the IWL has been taking place, things have improved by leaps and bounds because we are getting the opportunity to play in one more tournament, where teams from several clubs compete.
Here I would like to request the Indian Super League (ISL) and the I-League to set up their respective women's teams because it will help us tremendously. After all, a long and professional league competition like the ISL is only possible by having more and more teams in the tournament, which is lacking in women's football right now.
With just three-four teams, we can't have a long league competition and if the ISL clubs help us in this regard. It would turn into a truly professional league, like we see in other countries like the United Kingdom, Spain and the United States.
Such an initiative would be great for women's football, and for this we need the wholehearted support of ISL clubs.
Sputnik: Among international women's footballers who do you admire the most?
Ashalata Devi: Former French defender Wendie Renard, ex-Arsenal and England footballer Alex Scott and USA's Carli Lloyd are the three footballers who have not only inspired me, but I have learnt a great deal from them.
I really admire Renard for her defensive attributes and her leadership skills because she has won a number of tournaments for both her club and country. Even though she was a centre-back, she won matches by scoring goals, which is something I have always appreciated about her game.
Carli Lloyd is a senior player in the American women's team. Despite being a 39-year-old footballer, she is still working hard to improve and her dedication towards the game is simply unparalleled.
Moreover, her contribution in her side's wins has been immense and Lloyd's longevity is something I look up to because having a successful career for such a lengthy period of time is not at all easy.
Alex Scott was my role model and she is still my role model. I follow every aspect of her game - her accuracy, her playing style, I still like them all.
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