The first Indian woman footballer to sign up with a top-flight club in Europe, Ngangom Bala Devi hopes that her stint with Scottish side Rangers FC will inspire others in the country and improve the national team's profile. Rangers Women FC signed the 29-year-old national team forward for 18 months on January 29.
"The rate at which women's football is moving forward (in the country), I hope to see more of these young girls following me to Europe and improving the national team in the future," she was quoted as saying in an All India Football Federation (AIFF) release.
"We all have seen European football on television or on Youtube, when we were kids, and have dreamt of ourselves playing under such conditions. Now that I have got this opportunity, I want to grab it with both hands and show the country that we can all do well if we work hard and give it our best," she said.
The player from Manipur is the current top scorer for the national women's team, with an impressive 52 goals in 58 games since 2010, which also makes her the top international goal-scorer in the South Asian region.
She has also served as the national team's captain in a distinguished international career, which began when she was called up aged just 15.
She has been the top-scorer in the Indian Women's League for the past two seasons and has also been named AIFF's Woman Player of the Year twice, in 2015 and 2016.
Among male players, Mohammed Salim, Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri and Gurpreet Singh Sandhu have played for European clubs in the past. Now, Bala Devi is determined to make a name of herself.
"I really cannot describe how I feel right now. Playing in Europe has always been a dream for me, and now it has come true. We all know about the history, the heritage, and the culture that a club like Rangers carries with its name.
"I am proud to be associated with a club like that, and it will further motivate me to press forward and improve my game," she said.
She underwent a week-long trial at Rangers in November last year, after which she came back to help the national team clinch a gold at the 2019 South Asian Games, where she also finished as the top scorer -- netting six goals in four games.
"Improvement is something that we all need to do at all times, and I am thankful to the AIFF for providing me with the facilities in the National Team, so that I could keep improving my game.
"Now, it is time to use this opportunity to further improve myself, as I begin this new chapter in my life."
Devi said she felt at home in the Scottish capital, where the coaches studied her game and helped her ease into the physical style of football played in the United Kingdom.
"Yes, the style of play is more physical in Scotland, but the coaches really helped me adjust to that during my trial. They gave me some crucial tips on how to tweak my game in order to suit the physical style and we could really see those results on the pitch," she said.Giving out message to the youngsters who will represent the country at the FIFA U-17 World Cup later this year, Bala said, "Play hard, play for yourself, but most importantly, play for your country. There is nothing greater than wearing the India jersey.