By Soumo Ghosh,
AIFF Media Team
NEW DELHI: Former Blue Tigers joined in to mourn the sudden demise of their former teammate Laishram Manitombi Singh, who they recall, "was an absolute fighter" on the pitch.
Manitombi was a part of the Blue Tigers side that famously lifted the LG Cup in Vietnam, 18 years back, which was India's biggest win on the Continental stage since 1971.
The former full-back, who had also represented India in the 2002 Asian Games in Busan, shocked the Indian football fraternity, as he departed at the age of 39.
"I was really shocked to hear of his death. He was such an asset to Indian football," said his former Blue Tigers teammate and current National Team assistant coach Venkatesh Shanmugam.
Defender Debjit Ghosh is someone who not only had the pleasure of playing alongside Manitombi for the National Team, but had also captained the full-back during their days at Mohun Bagan. Expressing his surprise at the latter’s untimely demise, Ghosh gave some insight as to the kind of a raw talent the Manipuri was, during his early days in the National Football League.
“I was very surprised to hear that he had passed away. We could all do with some good news this year, and this was certainly not one of them. He was a dear friend off the pitch,” said Ghosh.
"I had seen him put in some really good performances on the pitch. He was an absolute fighter, but more important was the consistency that he brought in. You know that if he's there on the pitch, he will give you eight out of 10 every time. An absolute commitment player," continued Venkatesh. “As a defender, he was right up there with Mahesh (Gawli), Deepak (Mondal) or Surkumar (Singh) as some of the best defenders of that time.”
“I had captained him back in my Mohun Bagan days, and he's the kind of youngster you'd want to have under your command. I remember, I used to always bark out instructions to my fellow defenders on the pitch, and Manitombi carried them out to perfection. He was a true warrior,” Ghosh recalled.
Ex-Blue Tigers winger Renedy Singh, who had played alongside Manitombi for both country and club (Mohun Bagan), had the added privilege of serving under the captainship of the full-back at the Kolkata club.
“As a captain, you have to often lead by example. Manitombi was that kind of a captain. He worked hard on the pitch, and that's how he inspired the rest of us. When you think of a tough tackler like him, you'd rather have him on your side fighting for every ball, than in the opposition ranks,” said the former Blue Tigers skipper.
While the full-back was a “tough-tackler” on the pitch, however, all was forgotten once the match was over.
“He was a real tough guy on the pitch, and was very difficult to beat. But once the game was over and we walked off the pitch, his jovial side took over. He could mingle with both seniors and juniors alike, and that's the kind of players you need in the dressing room,” said Ghosh.
In recent years, Manitombi had taken up coaching, and was a coach at the Manipur State League champions Anouba Imagi Mangal in the 2015-16 season. While reminiscing about the playing days, Venkatesh felt that Indian Football had lost out much with Manitombi’s death, as he was coaching a number of youngsters in Manipur.
“His playing days were over, but I feel that Indian football has lost a really good coach. After completing his career, he was coaching a lot of young talented Manipuri boys,” said the India assistant coach.
“Having a coach with as much international experience as he had, at that level, is important. The knowledge that he was imparting to all these young players who were coming through the ranks under him is now gone. Indian Football will miss him,” he further mentioned.