The story originally appeared in MW’s October 2017 issue.

Under the skin of every bland announcement lies many untold stories of angst, despair, agony, pride and joy. Manipuri midfielder Amarjit Singh Kiyam was announced as the captain of the Indian squad for the upcoming FIFA Under-17 World Cup, to kick off across six venues in the country from October 5. On the face of it, this might come across as a mere elevation of a youngster to a position of leadership, but evidence suggests we read between the lines.

Ahead of the year-long preparatory tour of the West for the colts, in the absence of a youth league structure in India, Indian coach Luis Norton de Matos had declared Amarjit as the provisional captain of the team last year. Days before the all-important tournament, he conducted a final internal vote among the 27-player squad to select their captain. The boss had asked every member of the squad to write three choices on a sheet of paper. The first name would get five points, with 3 for the next and 1 for the final choice. A unanimous decision meant 26 voted in favour of the Manipuri lad to continue being at the helm of things. Not only does this speak about the sentiment inside the dressing room, but also about how big a cohesive influence Amarjit has been on the young unit; it won’t be hyperbole to state that the young footballer’s roots have a significant part to play in the lead-up to how things stand today. 

Amarjit was born and raised in Manipur, where his uncle introduced him to the beautiful game. “I played for a local side and my school team as well. My coaches then decided to send me to Chandigarh, where I trained at the Chandigarh Football Academy (CFA) and played for their side while doing my schooling at Sector 36 Govt Model School,” he told Sportskeeda, before jetting off to South Africa earlier this year. 

His parents — a 60-year-old mother, Ashangbi Devi who is dropped off by the carpenter father, Chandra Mani, on a bicycle to the local market in order to sell fish daily — didn’t bat an eye before digging deep into their savings to sponsor their talented son’s travels. “I wanted him to be fresh for the trials, so I gave him Rs 6,000 from our savings and asked him to book a flight ticket,” Ashangbi recalled in an interview with the Indian Express

That year, Amarjit helped the CFHA team, which mostly comprises players from Manipur and Punjab, to make it to the Subroto Cup final. A sparkling hat-trick in CFHA’s 3-0 win over the India U-16 team in 2015 then gave him his big break, and now he is all set to lead the first Indian outfit to make a FIFA World Cup appearance. 

“My brother is special, when he dribbles, people stop to watch him,” said a proud elder brother (and himself a decent footballer) Umakanta. “He would always talk about football. Sometimes, before the annual exams, we would remind him to study as well.”Amarjit has left no stone unturned to create more such opinions of his game on the big stage as well. His ability to dictate play in midfield has earned praise from the coach and critics alike, with the goal against Mexico during the preparations for the WC being the icing on the cake.

The international tours also gave him the opportunity to pay a pilgrimage to the stadium of his favourite club, FC Barcelona. And it’s no surprise that he looks up to Catalan and Spanish midfield maestro Andres Iniesta as an idol. We all know how the La Massia man has made a huge difference to his country, and if Amarjit can pull off something even remotely similar for the Blue Tigers, it could spell the beginning of a new phase not just for him, but also for the country’s football culture.