New Delhi [India], July 20 (ANI): India women's forward Bala Devi has been named as the AIFF Women's Footballer of the Year 2020-21, with young gun Manisha winning the AIFF Women's Emerging Footballer of the Year 2020-21 Award.
On receiving the honour, the 31-year-old Bala, in an official AIFF release said: "I'm so happy to have won this award. A big thank you to the AIFF and all the fans for their support. 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.
This marks the third time that the mercurial forward has won this prestigious award, having previously won it two years in a row in 2014 and 2015. Currently playing for Rangers Women's 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 the team in December. She remains the first Indian woman footballer to sign a professional contract in Europe.
19-year-old Manisha, who is also a forward, was named the Women's Emerging Footballer of the Year for the first time and expressed her delight at being named for the honour.
She stated: "Thank you AIFF for choosing me for the emerging player of the year award. 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," she added.
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 AIFF Interim Technical Director Savio Medeira.
Meanwhile, the AIFF Award for the Best Referee 2020-21 went to Tejas Nagvencar while Sumanta Dutta was adjudged for the Best Assistant Referee award.
Praful Patel, President, AIFF in his message, averred: "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." (ANI)