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Bala Devi makes history as lone Ranger in European top tier

BENGALURU: When Bala Devi started out, the only opportunity to play football she would get was against boys. She dribbled past them like a pro even at a young age. Those boys had the dream of turning out for the European clubs whose jerseys they wore. All Bala Devi could do was listen to them. One and half a decade later, she will be wearing one of those jerseys. As a player.

On Wednesday, the striker became the first Indian to sign a professional contract with an European top division club — Scottish giants Rangers FC. She had impressed coaches at Rangers during her week-long trial in Glasgow in November. She will play for the Rangers team for two seasons with an option to extend the contract. The deal was facilitated by Bengaluru FC through their tie-up with Rangers.

For the 29-year-old from Manipur, it’s a dream come true and more. “I had a good trial and scored twice in one of the friendlies I played. So I had a good feeling about it. Now, while I’m excited at this opportunity, I also feel that there is a big responsibility. I will be wearing the No 10 shirt, which says a lot,” she said.
Two other Indian woman footballers — Dalima Chhibber (Manitoba Bisons, Canada) and Aditi Chauhan (West Ham United, England) — had played for foreign clubs. There was also Tanvie Hans of Indian origin, who played for Tottenham Hotspur. But none of these clubs were in the top flight when these three played for them.

This makes Bala Devi the first Indian woman to be signed up by top-division club in Europe. She will play in the Scottish Women’s Premier League. Also, while in the past Indian players — men and women — found it hard to get play-time, she will be a vital cog in the side managed by Amy McDonald Mark Hately, a former Rangers striker and the Head of Club Ambassadors and Business Development, said Bala Devi will be one of their important players. “She will be one of our crucial players. I had a word with the coaches and they were very happy with Bala during the trials. That’s the reason we decided to give her the No 10 shirt — something we don’t give to fringe players. Going forward, since she will be one of the senior players, she will have the responsibility to even teach the younger ones in the team,” said Hately.Bala Devi, who has scored 52 goals for India in 58 appearances and was the top-scorer in the Indian Women’s League last season with 26 strikes in just seven games, aims to learn as much as possible and help the national team.

“It will be difficult for sure as the league is of high quality. The target will be to work hard and make the most of the facilities and coaching there. I am certain I will benefit a lot from the standard of training and competition. At the same time, I hope it opens the doors for my teammates (national) in the future,” said Bala Devi.

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