KOCHI: At the start of last year, Sandesh Jhingan, who is considered one of the top defenders in India, made headlines for all the right reasons as he decided to test himself in Europe by making the bold move of moving to Croatian side HNK Sibenik.
Jhingan was one of the highest-paid players in the Indian Super League at that time with ATK Mohun Bagan and his decision to risk testing himself in a considerably tougher league drew a lot of praise.
The 28-year-old also has had a lot of goodwill riding behind him after he had made a high-profile move from Kerala Blasters after six memorable seasons where he rose to become one of India's finest footballers.
Impressively enough, Blasters had even retired his jersey as a tribute for the contributions made by the India international.
Ironically, Jhingan found himself in the eye of the storm against the same opponents last Saturday after he allegedly made some sexist comments at the end of the 2-2 draw between Bagan and Blasters.
Jhingan's stay in Croatia was cut short owing to injuries and a lack of playing time and the centre-back made a low-profile re-entry into Indian football with Bagan welcoming him back.
After the disappointments of his Croatian stint, Jhingan seemed to be adjusting to the league as he reclaimed his position in the side, only to commit a misstep that put him under the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
After the match, as Jhingan was walking off, he made a comment on the lines of, "Auraton ke saath match khel aaya hoon, aurato ke saath", which roughly translates to: “I played a match with women, with women”.
The video clip of the incident was widely circulated discussed on social media with many slamming its sexist undertone.
Given Jhingan's popularity, seniority and standing in the game, the remarks didn't go down well with fans and he tendered an apology on social media.
"If my comments have hurt anyone, my apologies. It was never intended to create any harm to anyone," Jhingan wrote on Twitter in a series of tweets in the immediate aftermath of the whole incident.
However, the controversy has refused to die down as Jhingan issued another apology in a video clip while also claiming that his family was 'threatened and racially abused'.
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"I know a lot has happened in the last 48 hours, and it has been down to an error in judgement from my part. I have had the time to sit and reflect, something which I should have done, instead to react. To put it simply, what I said in the heat of the game is, it's wrong, and I am truly sorry for it and I know I have let many people down, including myself and my family. I cannot erase what I have done already, but I will surely do from this is to learn from the situation, try to be a better human being and better professional and try to be a good example," Jhingan said in the video.
The post-match incident has drawn the wrath of many while the abuse which Jhingan claims his family had gone through points to another ugly side of the celebrity-fan engagement in the social media space.
"An unfortunate fallout from this unsavoury incident has been that a lot of hate has been targeted towards my family, especially my wife. I know people are upset with me but to threaten and racially abuse my family, I think, is not required and unwelcome. So I please request you all to not do it," he added.
Prior to Saturday's incident, Jhingan was always looked at as an immaculate professional who rarely got entangled in off-field controversies.
From a hero and a role model worshipped by many, Jhingan now finds himself caught in an awkward position.
"Lastly again, I am really sorry but I will try to learn from this and try to be a better human being," Jhingan added.