It’s pouring in Goa, and you can hear the din of the rain coming down, even over the Zoom call I’m having with pro Indian footballer Robin Singh, who’s speaking to me from his villa in Socorro, 10 minutes to the north of Panjim. “My house has a signal issue, so let me know if you can’t hear me,” he says Robin and his wife Lianne are waiting for the arrival of their baby in October. He’s on a hiatus – with matches in the Indian Super League (ISL) on hold during the pandemic (even as international football is picking up, albeit to empty stadia) – but he’s “adapting to the circumstances” and making each training session count. “My goal is to get back on the national team,” he says (he’s played for India between 2012-2017, and was playing for Hyderabad FC, making the switch to Real Kashmir FC right before Covid-19 struck.
“I was a little boy who just loved football and made it my profession when I became a man,” says Robin, who grew up in Delhi playing both cricket and football, went to boarding school in Chandigarh and made the switch to football. “When Kashmir happened, I took it as an opportunity to play more football, with a longer off season,” he says. “And Kashmir is beautiful. The people are very welcoming and have warm hearts. I loved my time there, but it was sadly cut short.” It was while he was in Kashmir that the lockdown occurred. “We had a game in a couple of days, and everything was stopped,” says Robin. “My first priority was to get back to my wife as my baby was on the way.”Indian football forward Robin Singh
The 30-year-old forward, who looks more like a hip-hop star, tells me he’s been jogging and cycling but now there’s been a three-day lockdown, and with the rainy season, he’s limited his workouts to his home gym. “I train for two hours a day – I work on my strength, mobility, and do yoga and intensity cardio,” he says. “It’s an off season as it happens, and it gives us, the Indian fraternity, the opportunity to learn about how to take care of our health. Because ultimately, it’s a fight we have to fight together and a learning curve for our nation.” And in reference to the likes of the Bundesliga playing to empty stadia in Europe, he says, “For me, that would be the worst-case scenario, because as a football player I love to have my fans behind me, cheering loudly. It gives us players push and motivation. At the end of the day, we play for our family and fans.” He says that with smartphones turning into TV screens, football has become accessible in India. “It’s a growing sport in India,” he says. “With better sports infrastructure and the level of international players coming in, we are learning from these individuals,” he says. “We are more confident. Look at women’s football. They’ve performed really well – the AFC championship is coming into India. The sport is on the rise, and youngsters want to pick up the sport.”
Robin has been in touch with some of his teammates from FC Hyderabad and Pune City, like Marko (Stankovic), Marcelinho (Leite Pereira), and Giles Barnes, and is on a What’s App group with them. “Our bond has strengthened, on and off the field,” he says. “We are recent teammates and speak to each other a lot! I relate to these guys because of their hard work on the pitch, their head space, and not taking no for an answer, or feeling defeated. I speak to Iain Hume (who he played with in Pune City) – he’s an ISL legend. He’s one of my favourite strike partners.”
From the Indian side, I ask if Robin’s been in touch with Team India Captain Sunil Chhetri. “No, I’ve not been in touch with Sunil – he’s such a busy man!” says Robin. “I speak to Sandesh (Jhingan) quite often, and Mandar Rao Desai, who’s from Goa itself.”Robin Singh on the field
Asked about his football icons, Robin is quick to take David Beckham’s name. “On and off the pitch, I’m a David Beckham fan,” he says. “Yes, Ronaldo is the best in the world, for me at least, but when you think of football the name that pops in your head is David’s. But this debate about who is better, Messi or Ronaldo – I am a Cristiano Ronaldo fan. I love his technique, his attitude, as these are the things I like to incorporate into myself.”.
It’s clear that Robin’s sights are aimed high. “Obviously, I want to get back on the national team,” he says. “I am not done with my time at the national level. I am still hungry to play for my country – if not today – I will play tomorrow. I will do everything in my capabilities to prove that I am able to play for my nation again.” Not long ago, Robin met Indian football coach Igor Stimac at the hotel where the national team was staying. “I went to meet the boys,” says Robin. “Igor was there, and I said a quick hello. He asked me to get a cup of coffee with him – I love the fact that he’s not like, ‘You’re not in my team; you’re not my player.’ At the end of the day, I am a professional, trying to get on the national team, and he’s the coach.” Robin says it was a whole-hearted conversation. “He mentioned that he needs a strong physical strike guy – so that motivates me to work harder,” he says. “I know there’s a chance I can play; there’s a glimmer of hope. When the opportunity comes my way, whenever that may be, I will be there. As long as my nation needs me, I will perform to my fullest ability.”
And training is his best weapon for a comeback. He’s still in touch with his coach from Dubai Chris Bowman (who’s trained the Premier League and championship players from England and the Arab League). “Social media helps get us get access to each other, so we discuss my schedule, and I love to change it up,” says Robin. “I’m blessed to be able to do this with my friends, who’re also trainers.” To youngsters keen to perform at the highest level of the sport, he advises them to include a stint abroad as part of their training. “Investing in yourself and believing in yourself so that you can perform at the highest level – it won’t happen overnight, but every push matters,” he says. “If it means playing outside of India, why not? International coaches are also coming here. It’s about learning. It’s available if you want it. Make up your mind and do it.”Robin Singh now calls Goa his home
And as he prepares, Robin is lucky to find himself in the pristine surroundings of Goa. “It’s so beautiful here,” he says. “So much is still undiscovered. I love driving – if there’s a place my family and I want to get to, we just sit in the car and go!” He currently drives a Chevrolet Cruze (“a beast of a car”), but says he needs to pick up an SUV for his growing family, and has his heart set on a Hyundai Creta. “I’ve loved driving the Mercedes-Benz ML 360, the Mercedes-Benz GLS, the BMW X5 and the BMW X6, so let’s see where this goes,” he says. He loves visiting remote, tucked-away beaches, where he can have a cozy date with his wife. “Then I go train and jump into the sea!” he says. “Beaches are great for footballers. The sand is soft and great for the knees, but also gives you enough strength to push through. It’s a great way to train, right next to the ocean.”
As he speaks, the extremely hip, fashionable athlete shows his tattooed arms (he’s wearing a black Givenchy T-shirt today). His right forearm bears his wife Lianne Texeira’s initials. Under his left wrist is a red ‘kiss’ tattoo that he got from Lianne, from a napkin that bore her lipstick impression, and on his back, he says he’s got a tattoo of Mother Mary. “I’ve got 15 in all,” says Robin. “I like to get them done when I travel internationally, but there’s also a guy in Delhi I go too.” A great pair of shoes is imperative for training. “Adidas being my sponsor, I’m lucky to get their shoes. I use the Adidas Ultraboost,” he says. “I like how they look. I am a big sneaker head (he owns 250 pairs of sneakers). You will only see me in athleisure. Since I’m home these days, my T-shirt isn’t important. It’s about shoes and shorts.” And part of his most prized sports memorabilia, Robin says that a signed jersey from French footballer Thierry Henry tops the list.Robin Singh during his wedding to Lianne Texeira
One look at Robin’s Instagram, and you can see he loves the new Reels feature, which he uses to make fun dance videos with Lianne. “I love to make these videos,” he says. “I’m currently listening to Don’t Rush by Young T & Bugsey, Agua, and J Balvin, and we also love African music.” Since this is the best time to Netflix and chill, the couple also enjoys watching crime, horror, and documentary shows, like The Witcher, Cursed, Castle Rock, The Old Guard, and Athlete A (documentary expose on the abuse of US gymnasts).
But it’s during trying times like these, with the worldwide pandemic, that an athlete’s dedication is put to the test. “When you’re home it does get hard,” says Robin. “Every time you are down, you have to go up. I don’t take no for an answer. My dad’s father is a footballer, and my mum is from Kolkata. So football runs in my blood. When I was in boarding school in Chandigargh, I got my first taste of no – when I was told I would never become a footballer. It’s the same way when I am not on the national team, that does not mean that it’s the end of my career. I’m just not on the team at the moment. That is the point of emphasis. I am going to keep playing football – club or country – till my legs last. And that is my hunger and drive. I want to make my family and the people who support me – proud. Playing for one’s nation is the proudest moment one can have.”
And would he start his own academy at some point? “I would love to give back with an academy,” he says. “In India or wherever I am needed to help society, in the world. In Goa I would love to help youngsters – I constantly get messages from youngsters – asking for my advice. I tell them dream big, and make sure your dreams scare you. Otherwise you won’t run after them with all your heart. Doubt yourself, and fight that doubt to make sure your dreams come true.” Spoken like a true dreamer, and a doer.
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