Bengaluru's Ishan Pandita has become the first Indian footballer to sign a professional contract with a club in La Liga, the top tier of Spanish football.
The 18-year-old on Monday joined the setup at newly-promoted CD Leganes, which sits 11th in the Liga table. Pandita will first turn out for the club's U-19 side, which currently plies its trade in the Division de Honor Juvenil, the top level of the Spanish system for youth players. “It's a great feeling; it's a big moment for me,” he said from Spain. “But there's a long way to go.”
Pandita, a striker, has signed a one-year contract with the club. “My first goal is to get some game-time and score a few goals. If I can progress from the youth team and debut for the first team before the end of the season, that will be great,” he said.
Pandita grew up in the Philippines before moving to Bengaluru in 2009. He shifted base to Spain two years ago, and was part of UD Almeria's youth system. "I had trials at Getafe (currently in the second tier) in March, and I was very close to signing with them. But they got relegated at the end of the season. The whole point for me was to sign for a La Liga club and then Leganes showed interest," he said.
His game had improved by leaps and bounds since his move to Spain, Pandita felt. “I've been training with the best coaches and players. It has impacted me heavily. The standard of play is miles better than what I was exposed to back home.”
The 2016-17 season of the Division de Honor Juvenil has already begun. “It's a highly competitive league, with all the top clubs like Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid involved,” Pandita said. “I'm going to work really hard.”