Returning to East Bengal, the club where his journey as a professional footballer began, India international Robin Singh is raring to have a go at the record number of goals by an Indian striker in a domestic league season, currently held jointly by three players -- Bhaichung Bhutia, Mohammed Rafi and Sunil Chhetri.
"You have to aim for something in the sport of football, and 14 goals is definitely a target, and I would love to break it," says 26-year-old Singh of the mark which enabled Bhutia to finish top-scorer in the first National Football League in 1996-97, while Chhetri was joint top-scorer playing alongside Singh for Bengaluru FC in the I-League of 2013-14. Rafi missed out on the Golden Boot, but his 14 goals in 2009-10 for Mahindra United remain the only other occasion an Indian striker reached that figure.
The last 12 months have been particularly tough on Singh, who scored crucial goals in helping Delhi Dynamos to the Indian Super League (ISL) playoffs in 2015, and then scored two goals in the first match of the 2015 SAFF Championship on Christmas Day as India beat Sri Lanka 2-0 in Thiruvananthapuram. The second of those goals saw Singh pick up an injury that ruled him out for the rest of the season, and he only made sporadic appearances in ISL 2016 for his new club FC Goa, who had a disappointing run, finishing bottom of the table.
"I have never blamed anybody else for results. I take the blame on my chin when we lose. We didn't have a good season. I wanted to perform at my best, but I was also coming back from injury," says Singh. "When you get injured, you just dig deeper. You must always remember why you started playing the game. I don't want to sound boastful, but I was in pretty good form when I got injured. I hope it shows that I have dug deep."
- robin singh (@robin_singh_23) 11 January 2017
Coming back to East Bengal has also meant reuniting with head coach Trevor Morgan, who took charge of the club in 2010 and guided them to the Calcutta Football League title, the Federation Cup and second place in the I-League in his very first season, with Singh playing a key role in the success.
"I don't think we played very well in our opening match. We had to play in a particular formation because we had only one striker. Aizawl were very competitive and we got a point out of it. At least we didn't get beaten," says Morgan of the 1-1 draw at home last weekend. "This season is different from my previous stint, because when I first came we had six weeks together and then we played the Calcutta Football League. This time around, some of the players have had no match practice since August and the others were coming back from the ISL.
"We had (Trinidad and Tobago international) Willis Plaza and now we have Robin. He knows me and I know him well," says Morgan, expressing confidence his team will be an attacking threat in their next match away to DSK Shivajians on January 14.
Singh says of his decision to join East Bengal, "Trevor Morgan is one of my two favourite coaches (alongside Ashley Westwood), and when he asked me to join him, there was no question of turning him down. He's always ready to answer your questions. He's not the kind of coach who would just tell you to do something; he always explains your role as striker."
Morgan, who has been a very popular coach among fans in Kolkata, expects them to support the team just like they did in his first stint. "Our supporters have been fabulous, especially towards me. There will be times when we will need the supporters to get behind the team, just like they did in the last 15 minutes of the last game."
For Singh, this reunion will be special, as he first made his name at East Bengal after catching their eye playing for the Tata Football Academy, when he scored a brace to knock the Kolkata giants out of the 2009 IFA Shield. In 2010, he would score a critical goal against Goa, this time helping Bengal break an 11-year jinx of not winning the Santosh Trophy. Is there any chance he will feel extra pressure coping with the expectations of the fans?
"You always have a fan base as a footballer, and I have fond memories of starting at East Bengal. We also won the Santosh Trophy at home in 2010, and I feel grateful for those memories," says Singh. "That being said I have done nothing different when playing for Bengaluru FC, FC Goa or Delhi Dynamos.
"You have to play for the name at the front of your shirt and never the back of it."