U Mumba captain Fazel Atrachali believes some credit to Iran’s recent climb in kabaddi can be attributed to Pro Kabaddi League. Speaking to indianexpress.com, the Iranian said, “In the previous Asian Games in 2014, nobody played Pro Kabaddi but still Iran team was very good. We also had 12-13 point lead over India in the final. We just lacked experience. I was the captain and I was only 23 years old. This time in Asian Games in Jakarta, we had more experience, and we knew how to control the match. Some credit can also be given to Pro Kabaddi for helping the national side,” the 26-year-old defender told in an interview to indianexpress.com.
Atrachali started out as a wrestler in Gorgan city of Golestan Province in Iran. At the age of six, he, like many of his teammates in the national squad, was on his way to being a wrestler. He employs some of his grappling experience on the kabaddi mat. From the left corner, he blocks a raider and then holds them by the waists to pull them apart from the body. His favourite move is a quick dash, where he runs towards the raider and throws them out of the line.
With four finals, and two PKL titles (U Mumba – 2015 and Puneri Paltans – 2016), in three years, it is no wonder he became the costliest foreign player in the league’s history, reaching the elusive Rs 1 crore mark. Returning to U Mumba after three years, he is the leading the side as the captain. The fact that Mumbai are at the top of the Group A table is not the only sign of his success this season – he is also the leading defender in terms of tackle points (67).
“I am happy with my performance, because last year, I could only muster 57 points, but this season I already have 67 points. But, first, I play for my team and if my team wins, I am happy. Being the best defender does not matter to me if my team do not reach the final,” the Iranian said when asked about his performance.
He joined U Mumba in 2015 and had to had for his chance in the dugout, with the Surender Nada-Mohit Chhillar combination being preferred over him. Eventually, he received the opportunity in U Mumba’s 13th match. Considering the reduced length of the tournament at the time, Atrachali had only a small window to make a mark and he did so with aplomb.
In the fifth season, he became the first overseas defender to score 100 tackle points. In season 4, he was also the leading defender with 52 tackle points.
Challenges are what keeps Atrachali going and it was the case even when his age could be described in single digits.
“When I was 6-7 years old, I started wrestling. I played for 2-3 years and my coach left my village. I was left without a coach, so the sport was finished. Then, I moved to football, as a goalkeeper and defender. Everyone told me to stick to football, because it is good money whereas in kabaddi did not. But football was not interesting for me, because it was not challenging enough. Because the challenge was with the ball and not a person, and that did not interest me,” Atrachali said.
He added: “When I was 10 or 11 years old, I started kabaddi. When I played the sport, I realised I enjoyed it more so I left other sports and I came here.”
Perhaps, this was why, at 23, he was handed the responsibilities to lead Iran’s national team – he exudes confidence, in everything he does. In defence, he seeks out the toughest raider to challenge, because he believes he gives his best against stronger opponents.
“I think when a strong raider is coming, I can play better because I play 100 per cent. I feel more comfortable because I enjoy challenges. If I did not enjoy challenges, I would not be in kabaddi, but in some other different sport,” Atrachali said.