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Bhaichung Bhutia is an inspiration – India U-16 striker Uttam Rai

After consistently impressing for India’s age-group teams, Uttam Rai is all set continue his football education at USA’s Colorado Rush Football Academy, where he will have a six-month training stint. Having trained for nearly three years at the IMG Academy in Florida, this will be the India U-16 striker’s second stint in USA.

Libero Sports, who have been representing Uttam since October 2011, must be given credit for ensuring this deal for Uttam and the young Sikkimese’s stint at Colorado Rush will be facilitated by Coca-Cola.

Randeep Baruah, Manager, Player Representation (Libero Sports), told Sportskeeda, “We are all very excited for Uttam as the stint in Colorado Rush is a great opportunity for all of us to see his potential being truly tested. It will be a great learning curve for him, as well as make him a stronger and better player going through the program. Coca-cola has been a huge support in this opportunity. We are thankful to them for supporting Uttam in this opportunity at Colorado Rush.”

Sportskeeda caught up with the 15-year-old, who will turn 16 on December 20, in an exclusive interview and looking ahead to his training stint at Colorado Rush, Uttam was quick to recall his time at the IMG Academy where he was also adjudged ‘Offensive Player of the Year’ in 2011.

“It was a great experience to play at the IMG academy because the infrastructure and training methodology is very different and technically they are much more advanced. It was also great to play against so many other academies and clubs of USA and we even played with the U-17 US national team,” he told Sportskeeda.

Born in Chumbong, West Sikkim, Uttam like current India internationals Nirmal Chettri and Sanju Pradhan came through the ‘Search for more Bhaichungs’ campaign of the Sikkim Government.

Rai, who idolizes Fernando Torres but supports Barcelona, considers former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia as an inspiration while Nirmal and Sanju are also great examples for him to follow.

“I have met Bhaichung many times and he knows me very well. I even practiced with him during my vacation. He inspires me a lot because being a Sikkimese he has done so much in his career. Nirmal Chhetri and Sanju Pradhan have always been fine examples for Sikkimese youngsters and me as well.”

Uttam starred for Namchi Sports Hostel, Sikkim in the Subroto Cup and soon earned a scholarship at the Air Force School in Delhi. His talents were further recognised in the 2009 Coca-Cola Mir Iqbal Hussan Trophy while playing for Delhi.

He soon played for India U-14 and then the U-15s before scoring six goals for India under-16 in 2011 to help them qualify for the 2012 U-16 Asian Cup.

India crashed out from the group stage of the U-16 Asian Cup back in September in Iran but Uttam impressed again with a brace against eventual champions Uzbekistan. However, he still rates his five-goal performance against Kyrgyzstan in the qualifiers as his most important.

“It was a great experience playing in the U-16 AFC Championship as we faced tough teams but we also gave great performances. We fought till the end and drew against China and Syria and narrowly lost against Uzbekistan 3-2. Yes, I scored twice against Uzbekistan but my five goals against Kyrgyzstan in the qualifiers was the most important performance I would say as it set the pace for our campaign to play the championships eventually, and more importantly I won the game for my country,” he concluded.

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