He slowly walked down the aisle of The Old Trafford, leading to the dressing room. Sir Alex had asked everyone including the reserve players to be present for the team talk ahead of the match against Everton the next day. “Reserve players kyun? (Why does he need the reserve players?)”, he wondered. After an exhausting day at training, he preferred to be at the hotel, rather than sitting silently in a team meeting, which had nothing for him. He let out his depression in a quick puff of air. And as he continued his walk, his eye caught the sight of a empty bottle of Gatorade on the ground, and began dribbling his way past imaginary defenders with it. He lifted the bottle into the air, and volleyed it right into the open trash box with clinical perfection. And the mind’s satisfaction transformed into a quick smile, which spread over his face.
His journey upwards had been remarkable. The performance in the I-League catapulted him into national attention, and soon he was the National Team’s star too. It was around the same time, that Manchester United opened their new Football School at Goa, and with the FA mending its rules on foreign players and having realized the potential of the Indian market, they were keen on winning over the hearts of the football fans in India. And that is when they came up with the idea that Sporting Lisbon had tried first. They announced the inclusion of an Indian player into their team, and he was the obvious choice. The media hailed him and he boarded the flight to The Theatre Of Dreams, with a million dreams for himself.
But with leaps of success come a few steps of hard luck. The ‘Star’ from India with the dream of being a regular starter in the team was reduced to a reserve player, spending time with the U-21 squad at Old Trafford. The media that hailed him for making it across the sea, immediately mended ways and began a criticizing revolution. The young man was shattered. He was too inexperienced with failure. But with the media and his disappointment slowly settling down, he knew the way ahead – to prove that he belonged! And 4 months into his arrival, the guy was in the reckoning, with 7 goals from 6 matches played by the reserve team. It seemed like he was playing with kids as he dribbled, jostled and scored with impeccable class. The coach, Warren Joyce had only praises for him, and he knew, the words of the Reserve Team Coach wouldn’t be far from Sir Alex’s ears. He believed his time would come, and that time wasn’t far away.
“Gentlemen, it’s ‘Situation Critical’ tomorrow. Chelsea are closing on us. We need this win! So who’s with me?”, Sir Alex started of the procession, and they all went into a huge roar of approval. Time flew as the old fox laid down his strategies and his boys listened carefully. At a corner, he stood, watching the stars taking orders from the Coach, while his reserve team teammates were busy fooling around. “Why you there, son? Closer.” said Sir Alex to him. Stunned at the sudden order, he stared at the coach, wondering whether the coach actually spoke to him or not. “Close your Boca (Portuguese for Mouth) kid!”, said Nani as he quickly pulled him to the table and the whole table went into a laugh, before the decorum was back. After, a few minutes the discussions were over. Sir Alex, the assistant coach Mike Phelan and Joyce sat down discussing the team for the match, while the players dispersed in groups. “Big Bocaaaaa!!” Nani exclaimed again at him and sprinted away, and he chased him, leaving the team yet again in laughter. “The boy is slowly gelling in with the team”, someone said at the discussion table.
“The XI and the bench are on the notice board. Kit up boys!” Everyone moved to the notice board the next morning hearing Phelan’s words. He was first at the board as usual. He ran his eyes with lightning speed across the list of the usual starters, and walked away. But suddenly, he stopped and turned back. “Wait”, He pushed Cleverley away and peeped into the list again. At the end of the list, was his name!! He had made the bench!! “Yeeeaahhhhhh!” He shrieked and went into a sprint of joy. On his way, He passed the smiling faces of Sir Alex, Rooney, Ferdinand and the others, until he ran into Nani, and shouted in his ears “I made the bench Bocaaa!!” and Nani stood there with his Boca wide open.
This was the moment he had been waiting for. This was it. Meanwhile, the media back home had gone into frenzy, praising the boy and saying that everyone was by his side all the time! Phone calls and SMSes thronged his phone then. He smiled and quickly switched it off. He looked at his jersey. “29” it read. And then he stared at the clock in his room, and slowly counted down the moments…the moments to glory.
The match was scheduled for a 3 pm BST start. But by 2.00, the Trafford was like a sea of supporters. “Best of luck boys. Let’s win it!” Sir Alex said. The team again shouted in approval. “Ok then! Let’s roll boys!” The teams stood in the way leading to the ground. And then the teams slowly walked in. He followed the team. And as he passed the gates and stepped into the grass, he felt the chills passing through his spine. Amidst the cheers of thousands, he made his way to the bench with steady steps and an excited mind. He sat in the dugout, and watched the teams’ line up for the start, with the noisy red crowd in the backdrop. With the whistle, the ball set rolling, and so did his eyes, as they chased the ball without blinking.
The day was easily turning out in the favor of the Red Devils, as Van Persie beat Tim Howard twice before half time. Moreover, the Toffees were reduced to 10 men, with Phil Jagielka sent off for a mistimed tackle on Rooney. The sight of Rooney limping around had sent a chill in everyone’s mind, especially with the Champions League match against AS Roma due the same week. But he seemed ok, and carried on. But Sir Alex was concerned, and he decided not to risk his key player and he substituted the English striker with Danny Welbeck, during the half time. Before late, a rebound off a set piece resulted in a hat-trick for Van Persie. The match was now surely in Man U’s hands. Sir Alex drew his writing board and immediately planned to drop from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1. “Let Shinji play behind Danny. Remove Robin.” Sir Alex ordered his men. “So who’s going in for Robin?” asked Phelan. Sir Alex smiled, and slowly turned around.
All this while, he was sitting silently, thinking about how far he had gone with his career. There he was, living his dream. But he came back to the moment, when he saw Sir Alex looking at Him. “No, it couldn’t be me. It’s Nani.” He thought, as he looked at the Portuguese winger sitting beside him. “You don’t mind giving Boca a chance do you, Nans?” Sir Alex shouted to Nani. And Nani blinked his right eye with a smile.
“Kit up kid!! You’re going in.” Sir Alex said. And as in a dream, He stood up, and stood still. “Boca Boca Boca! Best lucks Boca” Nani patted his back and cheered. He couldn’t believe what was happening, yet he lived through, what was feeling like a miracle. He removed his jacket, worked his laces and warmed up. And as the clock showed 63 minutes of play, Howard pushed a powerful drive from Anderson out for a corner, and the official’s board gleamed. The numbers ‘20’ was in red and ‘29’ shone in green. “Best of luck Boca” Sir Alex wished him, and as Van Persie reached his side, he looked into the skies, closed his eyes, touched the ground, kissed his hand and set his right foot onto the ground!’
This is not just a fiction. This is not just a dream. ‘He’ could be anyone. But he is an Indian footballer, and he will be followed by many others. They will soon be a part of the elite leagues of Europe. This is where the journey of Indian football is headed to. This is the future which thousands of fans are waiting for. And this is the future that’s not far away. To heights with Indian football!Published 15 Sep 2012, 20:15 IST