I picked up football very early, since that was the only game everybody played in our village. I loved the game but did not give it much thought at that early age. It was only after joining the Sports Authority of India that I began to take it seriously.
I was selected to play in the Governors Gold Cup in 1992 at the age of 15 and it was during that tournament that Bhaskar Ganguly, one of Indias finest goalkeepers, spotted me. The following year, I came down from the hills to the plains of Bengal to join East Bengal. It was only then I began to dream of making it really big and chose to become a professional footballer. The club paid me a stipend of Rs 5,000 per month and within a year I settled down in the cutthroat world of Maidan football.
The turning point in my career came in 1995 when I was picked for the national side. The Uzbek coach Rustam Akramov gave me a new direction in life when he switched my role from that of a midfielder to a striker. I began to enjoy the game a lot more since I was getting more opportunity to do what I liked bestscore goals.
I moved to JCT, played for a long while with East Bengal and then Mohun Bagan, but somehow, I wasnt happy. I wanted to see the world, to see how football is played elsewhere.
In 1998, I went to give trials with the New England Revolutionaries in the US and it really opened my eyes to a new world. I knew I had to play abroad if I were to improve myself as a player and as an individual. The following year I went to play for Bury FC in England. I remember people saying it was mission impossible succeeding in the English League where it was a lot more physical, but I still needed to test myself.
When I came back to India, I was a changed person. It had been the most enriching experience of my career. Money wasnt a factor since I wasnt getting much more than I would have in India, but everything else was a plus. You have to live with them, eat with them and play with them to know what the game is all about. I began to understand what professionalism really meant. I also learnt about the administrative and marketing aspects of the game.
Having returned to India, I was very restless, since the taste of foreign flavour remained with me. I went to Malaysia to play with Perak FC and now, although I have signed for East Bengal, my quest for excellence hasnt ended.
What has been most disappointing all these years is that none of my colleagues have shown the zeal to discover themselves. Their attitude is all wrong, they are too casual, too happy-go-lucky They dont have the hunger, the willingness to strive for that something extra. They are happy earning whatever they are and being wherever they are. Their attitude has to change. The same goes for the federation and the clubs.
India has had several fine footballers, but very few with the knowledge required to run the games administration. We need to hire professionals to run the game in this country. As a football nation, we are nowhere and unless we change our attitude right from grooming footballers at the nursery level to running the administration professionally, we will stay there.
Its so frustrating to know that so much can be done and yet no one has come forward with the right motive. If I had my way, I would scrap everything and start anew. I would hire the right people to get things started in a lot more professional manner. I still dream of seeing India play the World Cup and I am certain we can do it if we go about it the right way.
To me, India empowered is when sports will be run and marketed professionally with players having the hunger and incentive to compete with the best in the world.
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