From Juhu Beach to Indian Super League with Karan Sawhney
Every kid who’s grown up wandering the streets of Mumbai has a connect with football. Before the age of WhatsApp groups and astroturf grounds, the rules were much simpler. There is a time and a place where players from all over the area unite for kick-off.
The last arrival is usually forced to play last-man, but for the rest, it’s the start of the happiest time of their day. Glasses have been broken, injuries have been sustained, and earfuls received from intolerant uncles. But the passion is one that you simply can not tame, and this lot returns the next day for the Beautiful Game
Almost every one of these players did at some point dream of turning their passion into a profession. The flickering light in their local field hopefully, someday becoming the floodlights of Anfield. The yelling from the old lady who got hit by the ball, someday turning into the roar of Dortmund’s Yellow Wall. Or the assist you converted like a king, someday arriving from the feet of Jackichand Singh! Dream long enough, and you’ll see it come alive. Just ask Karan Sawhney.
He too spent his younger days kicking the ball around the buildings and beaches around Mumbai. But there are three things that make one stand out from the crowd. In Karan’s own words, “Hard work, persistence, and dream big.”
Not to mention, Karan loved his cricket as well. But it took a call up from one of the nation’s most famous clubs, and nothing would be the same.
At the age of 13, Sawhney was selected for Mahindra United’s U13 side. It was at this point that he transitioned from a fan of the game to something much more.
He went on to represent the state and excelled in his forward position. His efforts caught the eye and he was rewarded with the captain’s armband for the Maharashtra U16 side. There were more than a few highs in this phase, but none more so than when he found the back of the net against an U18 Inter Milan side.
Sure, the glory looks sweet from the outside. But there was a fair bit of sacrifice involved for Sawhney in his quest for more.
Karan was 16 years old when he made the cut into Jharkhand’s renowned Tata Football Academy (TFA). A big step in the right direction, but one that was far from easy.
He was set to leave the comforts of his home and spend the next four years at TFA. A regular college life wasn’t going to come his way, as he spent his time in the dormitories at Jamshedpur. He trained day in and day out in a highly demanding environment, and against lads striving to outdo each other. It’s safe to say, his social life wasn’t very happening.
But it was a decision Karan had made, and the man was stubborn about it. “Football was top priority,” he stated, adamant to take his game forward. And forward is where he went.
In 2012, Salgaocar FC signed the then 20-year-old Sawhney. He worked his way through the ranks, was loaned out to DSK Shivajians, and later signed by Bengaluru FC for the 2013-14 I-League season. Before he knew it, Karan was fighting for a place in the squad against one of our nation’s best ever, Sunil Chhetri.
When asked about India’s top scorer, Karan had only good things to say. “He’s a great guy, on and off the field,” he said, before adding, “his never-say-die attitude is contagious, and helps the team too.”
Sawhney was restricted to just three starts in the season. But there was much to learn from Chhetri, in footballing terms and more as Karan exclaims, “He’s like an older brother to me!”
He played the season of 2016-17 with his hometown club Mumbai FC. He bagged three goals in six appearances for them, including a special winner against Churchill Brothers well into stoppage time.
Most recently, Sawhney has scored a contract with Kerala Blasters FC. This will see him train under former Manchester United coach, Rene Muelensteen for the upcoming season.
For a United fan, this is the stuff of dreams. “I’m very glad I got selected to play for Kerala Blasters,” Karan said, “I’ve grown up watching Manchester United and have been a diehard fan. Playing under our gaffer is going to be very exciting and I’m really looking forward to that.”
To add to that, he’ll be teaming up with stalwarts from the national side including Sandesh Jhingan, CK Vineeth and, of course, Jackichand Singh. This can only be a good thing for Karan’s football, and shall forward his goals for the future.
The Indian dream - the World Cup. Can we make it? There’ll be many cynics out there who’ll make you believe otherwise. But Sawhney isn’t one of them.
“Climbing up to 96 is an outstanding achievement in such a short time,” he said, “I’m sure India can reach the World Cup, there’s a lot of talent. A professional grassroots programme in each city can help us achieve that.”
When asked about his own future, Karan states, “My next target is to play for the national team!”
In 2014, when our national side languished at the 171st position and you told someone we’d be in the top 100 within three years, you’d be laughed off. What stops us from believing now?
Indian football has come leaps and bounds over the last few years. The merger of the I-League and Indian Super League is another step in the right direction, as Karan mentions, “A professional league with 20 teams would be ideal.” The signs are promising for the sleeping giant i.e. Indian football.
Here’s wishing Karan the best for the near future and the Indian dream. Dream long enough - and as Sawhney says - dream big enough, and you might just see them come true.