Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake in the morning to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people, for they dream with open eyes, and make them come true. As Napoleon Bonaparte had rightly said, “Aim for the stars, only then you will reach the skies.”
20th July, 2013, Vivekanada Park, South Kolkata: A sea of gathering all round as hundreds gather for the Kolkata Trials. The buzz is in the air as they have only one dream, a chance of a lifetime, the famed prize of booking their tickets to the Allianz Arena, the home of current European Champions, Bayern Munich. They will be provided with a lavish opportunity to be trained under the Youth Coaches of Bayern Munich. Surely for a country as diverse as ours, where the passion for the game runs in the blood of every youngster practicing under the scorching heat of the bright Sunshine, this is too big an opportunity to miss. The azure skies opened up on Kolkata as the monsoon showers proved the order of the day. The playing conditions were far from impressive but it could do little to dampen the spirits of hundreds who had queued up for the trials. Mr Bibhash Das, ex Mohun Bagan player was the chief Guest and Selector who would be choosing the players who would in turn book a date with destiny two days later at the Mohun Bagan Club Ground for the Eastern Zonal Finale. With some impeccable football in the offering, the nimble nutmegs, dazzling dribbles, sprawling saves and some exquisite moves by the youngsters made sure that it was quite a spectacle. However at the end of the day only a handful made it to the Zonal Finale where they would be joined by youngsters who were selected from all over the Eastern Zone ranging from Maldah, Jalpaiguri, Siliguri, Gangtok and all over the eastern parts of the Country.
22nd JULY: TIME FOR THE EPIC CONCLUSION
After hunting down the length and breadth of the country, hundreds of villages far east, and from around 25,000 aspirants from more than 400 schools, clubs and coaching centres across eastern India, only 24 made it to the Grand stage for the Eastern Zonal Finale. This was the time to showcase the footballing skills in their armoury and win a prized training stint under the watchful eyes of the Bayern Munich coaches.
Bayern Baptism for the Munich Dreams: “Reality is merely an illusion albeit a very persistent one”
Mr. Kalyan Chaubey, CEO of Mohun Bagan Youth development was the Chief Guest of the occasion. Mr. Pinaki Mallick Regional Manager, Bajaj Allianz also graced the occasion with his solemn presence. Sandip Nandy, Denson Devdas and Katsumi Yaso, all Mohun Bagan players were also greeted with rapturous applause and smiles as they entered the Ground. Akash Mandal, one of the five winners of the Bajaj Allianz Junior Football Camp, Season Three was also present on this showcase event.
The 24 players were divided into teams, Red and Green. The match got off to a slow start with both the teams matching each other stride for stride. The deadlock was however finally broken just before the break by a lovely deft touch just outside the penalty box from Ashim Mondal of the Red team. The beginning of the second half also saw some changes being made in both the sides as the Greens pumped forward looking for the equalizer. Ishan Borah struck with a lovely finish maintaining his composure to beat the Goalkeeper from close range. At the end of regulation time however the score was still deadlocked one a piece. Thus it took the dreaded penalty shootout and in the end the Reds prevailed over the Greens.
Just before the presentation ceremony, Mr. Kalyan Chaubey, ex India International and CEO Mohun Bagan spoke on the initiative, “I am absolutely thrilled and thankful to Bajaj Allianz for providing this platform to all the aspiring players to come forward and hone their footballing skills. They are going to be the future of our country and I feel delighted that Bajaj Allianz has been working so meticulously for the supply line for the future of Indian Football. This is indeed a proud moment for all of us and I would like to congratulate each and every finalist who have come here and shown their mesmerizing skills in front of us today. All of you surely have a bright future. Best Wishes”
In the end dreams were made and fulfilled when Ishan Borah and Anupam Sarkar were declared the winners of the prized training stint under the watchful eyes of the Bayern Munich coaches. The jury headed by Mr. Kalyan Chaubey gave out the prizes and praised accolades for the winners. There were also cash prizes for those who just missed the mark by a whisker.
Anupam Sarkar: This 15 year old youngster who loves to play at left back is a class 10 student of Delhi Public School, Ruby Park, Kolkata. His favorite footballer and role model is Christiano Ronaldo. “I dream to play like him. I have all his posters strewn in my room. I was quite confident coming into the trials and it definitely is a huge moment in my life being able to go to Bayern Munich.” Anupam has previously played for the Kalihat Milan Sangha under 16 side last season. Even Tej Bahadur Shastri, Mohun Bagan under 14 coach and one of the selectors was always impressed by the boy’s ball control and composure.
Ishan Borah: This 16 year old hails from Guwahati and is a class 12 student of Kendriya Vidyalaya (IOCL), Noonmati. “I started playing when I was 8 and would love to pursue my career as a professional Footballer. One day I dream to don the Indian Jersey. I want to see my country reach the pinnacle of success in the World Football Map.” Incidentally like Anupam, Ishaan’s favorite footballer is also Ronaldo. “He is my idol and role model. I am a huge fan of his. Ishaan’s favorite fan is his elder brother Akash who inspires the young lad to achieve his dreams and destiny. “I can’t see him fail, he will surely go all the way” Ishan, after his stint in Munich wants to pursue his football at Mohun Bagan as he feels it will give him the much needed exposure.
Anupams mother who was also present at the Ground in the Zonal finale was thrilled to see her son succeed “He always said, this is the one I can achieve. I am so happy for his success. I am absolutely thrilled.”
Sat, 13th This was it. I left my house knowing that I would watch people’s fortunes change in front of me. Even if it wasn’t the ultimate prize, the finalists would move one step closer to the coveted trip to the Allianz Arena, to meet one of the world’s most successful and prolific teams, Bayern Munich, meet the players, the coaches, the staff and watch them training. In a nutshell, a football fan’s ultimate fantasy.
Contrary the previous day, the weather was absolutely spot-on for sports. It wasn’t too sunny, the temperature was bearable and the pitch was dry. Fortunately, I was able to interact with a lot more people than the open registration, which was hindered greatly by the rain. First, I met Mr. Richard Dixon, who is a veteran in the word’s truest sense. Having professionally refereed matches for the last 20 years, not just nationally but also in Kuwait, Mr. Dixon also trains referees, with over 150 getting their licenses last year. “I used to love playing until I broke my floating rib, post which I decided to start refereeing. These last 3 years I’ve spent in Mumbai have been wonderful. It’s great to see the football culture finally picking up after years of waiting!” said Mr. Dixon. He also believes discipline defines your game. “Mistakes are accepted, blunders are not.” He added. As the day progressed, we enjoyed a fantastic display of football.
The level at which these students were playing wasn’t ordinary. There was a special sense of belief and motivation in every touch of the ball, every shout to the teammate. Observing these things from a distance was Sohail Khatri, winner, West Region, Bajaj Allianz Junior Football Camp Season 3. The reminiscence and nostalgia was evident on his face as he studied the game from a distance this time around.
When asked about his experience at the Allianz Arena, Sohail described it as a feeling you always wished you can experience one day. He said, “Looking at Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery practicing in front of me is something I never thought I could ever experience. The level at which they play football is indescribable. I’d just like to thank Bajaj Allianz with all my heart and I really appreciate the chance I was given to prove my talent. ” Informed by an article in the newspaper, Sohail says the camp taught him how to mature as a player, accept mistakes and made him a good listener. “I would say nothing is impossible. Chase your dreams and never back down. Try till you can and success WILL follow.”
The toughest part about the finals was spotting the talent. To understand the potential of a player and his understanding of the game by watching him for a few minutes at a time requires special skills. Alex Ambrose, coach at the Manchester United Soccer School, and Vijit Shetty, were present as the chief selectors to help ease the situation. They admitted that though it was a difficult task, seeing a player’s decision in a crunch situation determines his aptitude as a footballer.
For the presentation ceremony, we had Mr. Sebastian Fernandes, Hon. Gen. Secretary , MSSA, along with Alex Ambrose, Vijit Shetty, Sumit Kumar Regional Marketing Manager, West Region. And Sohail Khatri. One by one, a cheery face rose from the audience, feeling a sense of accomplishment. A total of 28 names were announced as finalists who would travel to Pune for the next round.
This marked an end to a remarkable experience I had at the grounds. The energy was pulsating. The atmosphere was intense. It felt great knowing I was on the ground, finding stories to tell, talking to people I never would get a chance to talk to otherwise.