Bala Devi, Manisha Kalyan named winners of annual AIFF awards

 Indian team forward Bala Devi has been named as the AIFF Women's ''Footballer of the Year'', with young gun Manisha winning the ''Emerging Player'' award for the 2020-21 season.

This marks the third time that the mercurial striker has bagged the award, having previously won it two years in a row in 2014 and 2015.

Currently playing for Rangers FC in Scotland, Bala made her debut for the team in February last year and created history as she scored her first competitive goal for them in December.

She remains the first Indian woman footballer to sign a professional contract in Europe.

On receiving the honour, the 31-year-old Bala said: "I'd also like to thank my coaches -- both at my club in Rangers, and in the national team, and also and all the coaches that I've played under in the past.

"A big thank you also to my family and all my teammates for all the support."

"I arrived in Scotland last year, just before the global lockdown had started, and acclimatising to any new place in such conditions has been extremely difficult.

"But with their help, I have been able to focus on the things that are most important, and keep myself in top shape, both mentally and physically," she added.

The 19-year-old Manisha, who is also a forward, won the award for the first time.

She said: "This award motivates me to push further to work harder for my team and achieve our goals."

"I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all the staff of the National team who taught me and made me capable enough for this award. I would further extend my gratitude to my teammates without whom the award couldn't have been possible. My family, my coaches, teachers – a big thank you to all."

A former India U-17 and U-19 international, Manisha made her senior national team debut against Hong Kong in 2019 and since then, she has gone on from strength to strength.

She also received the Emerging Player of the Tournament Award at the 2019-20 Indian Women's League, where she played a key role in Gokulam Kerala FC's run to the title.

Both the winners were chosen by the national team head coach Maymol Rocky in consultation with All India Football Federation's interim technical director Savio Medeira.

Meanwhile, the AIFF Award for the best referee went to Tejas Nagvenkar while Sumanta Dutta was adjudged the best assistant referee.

AIFF president Praful Patel said, "I would like to congratulate the award winners for the season as Indian football continues to move forward together. They are inspirations for one and all, and all of us are proud of them and share the joy."

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