While football continues to be a billion-dollar industry where players are showered with money in India and abroad and get to live a glamorous lifestyle,the other end of the spectrum paints a very different picture.
Fourteen-year-old Akash Rathod hopes he will make it big in a vast world of professional football. In a group of 20 children,Akash stands out thanks to his slick skills and undying hunger. Like Akash,19 other children,all aged under 16,with nothing but dreams show up at the Karnataka Sporting Association (KSA) ground thrice every week. Football is not just a passion for them,it’s also a way to meet their basic necessities.
Their coach,Prakash Shetty,keeps a close eye as they play a seven-a-side practice match. Standing on the touchline,he seems satisfied with the time and energy they’ve invested on these kids in the last four years. This is an extremely talented bunch of players. They’re hungry for success,always keen to learn extra something. We need more such children, Shetty says.
What was essentially an experimental project four years ago is turning into quite a successful program for KSA. Back in 2009,during one of their annual veteran’s tournaments,the idea to invest in young,underprivileged children was proposed. One of the players suggested that instead of having a tournament for the veterans,we should work on the grassroots. It made sense to us. Though the veteran’s tournament was one of the prestigious events on our calendar,we decided to do away with it and focused on harnessing young players, Shetty,who is the joint secretary of the KSA,says.
They subsequently held an U-14 tournament that saw roughly 120 kids participate. Twenty promising talents were selected from that tournament and they have been together since. When teams train together,they play better. So we thought to keep these kids together and see how things shape up, Shetty,a former national level player himself,says.
The team has won two tournaments till date a Project Play tournament for NGOs and Mahayudh tournament for under-14 sides. The fact that they’ve been together for such a long time reflects in the way in which the team plays. The coordination,off the ball running and understanding between the players is something that you don’t often see at this level, Shetty says.
To keep them involved and to ensure their parents do not steer them away from the game,KSA decided to reward the players. Because they could not offer monetary compensation,the players are provided with monthly ration comprising all the basic food requirements along with school and computer fees. Most of these kids come from very humble background. They hail from Dharavi and fisherman’s colony in Colaba. So it’s an effort to keep the children and their family motivated. If they take home something,their parents will be encouraged to send them for training, Shetty says.
Rathod is quick to add: Earlier,my parents were a bit reluctant to send me for training. They told me focus on studies,which will help me get a job in the future. But once they saw that I was getting home something by playing football,they do not object anymore. They realise I can make a living out of this as well.
The children are coached by professional trainers thrice every week. Gopal Menon,an ‘A’ licensed coach based in the USA,flies down once every three months to monitor the progress. They have one and a half hour session daily and the sessions are conducted by coaches Julian D’Souza,Naveen Kotian,Suresh Menon and Shetty himself. We follow programme set by Menon. I believe spur coaching facilities do not yield results in long-term. You can’t teach anyone in 10 days,as these camps suggest. You need a long-term plan. So we decided to focus on 20 boys for 3-4 years, says Shetty.
KSA hopes they can produce quality players from this batch. It’s four years now since we’ve taken them on board. We want to see how many players from here can go and play for big clubs. We have our own club in the Super division,so some may be recruited in that. Based on that,we will take a call on the next batch, Shetty says.