Only a few feelings come close to the ecstasy provided by taking home the match-ball after a derby. Versatile Manipuri striker Ningthoujam Pritam Singh experienced this after the Imphal derby in the I-League last season, amplified by the fact that he became the first person in history to do so.
Pritam joined Eastern Sporting Union as a seven-year-old, idolising Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo as a kid. He matched shoulders with the big guns when he signed for Sporting Goa in 2011 to play in the I-League for the first time.
After stints with 2013 I-League second division side Mumbai Tigers and the historic Mohammedan SC, the forward signed for NEROCA in 2016. He also represented Gokulam Kerala in the 2018-19 season but returned to the Manipuri club after a lacklustre stint.
“I started off with Eastern Sporting Union (ESU), a club close to my house here in Manipur. My coach at that time was Mr. Pundum and I started working under him in 2003. I did not watch a lot of football at that time but Cristiano Ronaldo became my role model during 2005-06 season after he started playing for Manchester United,” he told Goal.
Earlier this year on February 8th, the 27-year-old created history by becoming the first player to score a hat-trick in the Imphal derby in the I-League. He scored three in the second half in NEROCA’s 5-0 win over local rivals TRAU as over 34,000 people were in attendance to witness the feat.
Needless to say, Pritam was lost for words as he attempted to describe his feeling after scoring the hat-trick. He scored a total of four goals and assisted four more before the Coronavirus pandemic brought the season to a halt.
“NEROCA against TRAU is the Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal equivalent fixture of Manipur. I became the first player to score a hat-trick in this fixture and the feeling was incredible. I am out of words to describe it. I had a nice run this season and the team also did well,” he explained.
Versatility is a highly desired trait and Pritam has played in multiple positions this season – as a striker, on either wing, as wide midfielder and as a central midfielder. He spoke of interests from a few clubs from the Indian Super League (ISL) but claimed that there is no confirmation at the moment.
The explosive forward also expressed his desire to play for the national team and believes that playing in the ISL is the right way forward.
“I am not in talks with NEROCA (for an extension). My agent is in talks with two or three clubs from the ISL, but there is no confirmation as of now. We will get to know in a few days.
“I want to play for the national team some-day. It’s hard to make the national team while playing for an I-League club. I want to play for an ISL club, do well and then represent the country,” he said.