Interview of Sanju Pradhan: The Bright Star From Sikkim
With the I-League coming down to its wire and East Bengal who were having a good run few months back reduced to third position with 5 points difference with leaders Salgaocar, one man who would have to shoulder the huge responsibility of taking East Bengal’s at the top would be Sanju Pradhan.
Born in the Himalayan state of Sikkim, he made his way up from kicking a ball made of plastic tied with ropes to being compared with Arjen Robben. In an exclusive interview with Babua Biswas of sportskeeda.com, the youngster touched on a vast range of issue from his childhood to how he was inspired by Bhaichung to his future goals.
Babua Biswas: Sanju, football is the sport that every youth in North East India plays and follow, out of which not even one percent thinks of making a career out of it. What made you think the other way?
Sanju Pradhan: Like everyone in North East I also never thought of making a career out of football. I just knew that the ball is to be kicked around. Neither I nor my family nor anyone in my village knew that there is a life in football. You can’t imagine how ignorant we were about the professionalism of the game. As a kid we seldom kicked the real football. We use to make balls with plastics and papers and tie it up with a rope and kicked around.
However, I luckily got a scholarship from nowhere to get trained in the Namchi Sports Hostel. Namchi, being a town had access to modern facilities like TV. Here while undergoing training, we use to watch football matches on TV. It was only then I came to know how professional is football in the world and how one can make a career out of it.
Again with modernization, people everywhere are now aware of how big football or on a larger scale sports is in the world. People now are realizing Sports is not just for fun but career can be made out of it. And the changing trends is very much visible in North East India as well as we can see so many sportsperson representing the country. Just look at Manipur, they are the No. state in the National Games.
BB: When did you realize that you play the game well and have the potential to curve a career out of it?
Sanju Pradhan: As I already said, I just knew football is to be kicked inside the two posts. I knew nothing beyond that. So there was no question of assessing how well I use to play. It was only when I came to Namchi Sports Hostel that I realized I had the potential to make a career out of it.
BB: Being from Sikkim, your idol and your inspiration would have obviously been Bhaichung Bhutia. Any other person whom you look up to?
Sanju Pradhan: Yes definitely, Bhaichung is my idol. Other than him, I am a huge fan of Messi, C.Ronaldo and Kaka.
BB: Life in Sikkim is very beautiful as from my experience of visiting it many times. How beautifully did you spend your childhood?
Sanju Pradhan: Oh…I think that was the best part of my life. I was very amiable right from my childhood and I use to enjoy in everything. I remember making football with plastic tied with ropes and kicking it on the roads. That was in itself enjoyable for us. We use to go to other village to play a football match just for 10, 20 Rs. I feel pity for kids of these generations as they are missing what we had in our childhood days. I get very emotional when I recall those beautiful days. We had nothing in life but the happiness. I miss my childhood a lot.
BB: Who all are there in your family and how have they been supportive of your football career during your early days?
Sanju Pradhan: I am the youngest in my family with an elder brother and a sister. My Father runs a small shop in our village and my mother is a housewife. As I said, they were very ignorant about football. They never knew whether I play well or not. However, they fulfill all my financial needs whenever I required. But now they also know what football is all about and are very supportive.
BB: You are now a known face within the Indian Football fraternity. But this might have come after enormous effort you have put into. What all hardship have you endured to reach this level?
Sanju Pradhan: After joining the Namchi Sports Hostel and when I realized I can make it big, I trained really hard. We were required to study also but I was weak in the academic front. So I didn’t stress myself with studies and started neglecting, realizing that I can’t concentrate on both. If I do so, I will end up nowhere. Neither will I make it big in football nor in the academic front. So I just concentrated on football and worked very hard.
Then I use to draw inspiration from Bhaichung thinking if he can make it this far from a small village in Sikkim why not I. I am also from village and when I have managed to reach Namchi, I thought I can still go further and worked really hard. I took every coaching instruction seriously and kept in mind and implemented those in my game.
BB: Talking about your club, East Bengal was having a good run in the I-League till recently when they began to stumble. What do you think is going wrong? Can you see Salgaocar slipping up?
Sanju Pradhan: See, football is a game. Winning and losing is part of it. We can’t just keep on winning all the time. Just think for us also. We are playing the AFC Cup also outside India. Moreover, just imagine playing a football match in Kolkata at 1.45PM under the scorching heat of the sun. These entire factors do takes a toll. AIFF also should think for the players. How can they be so irresponsible in making players play under the scorching heat of the sun.
Moreover, I don’t think Salgaocar has gone far ahead of us. We have just a difference of five points which is quite catchable. And the I-League is still very open with around 8-9 matches to still to go. Dempo and Churchill are also in the race. It doesn’t matter to me whether Salgaocar slips or not. But we have to play our game and win matches to win the League.
BB: You have been playing well throughout the season and have become very important for East Bengal. How would you assess your development in this few years after playing the I-League?
Sanju Pradhan: I can say I have matured as a player though I am still learning every day. Playing a match in Sikkim and playing the I-League is a different game all together. The pressure of playing I-League is huge which I realized after playing for East Bengal. The club has a mass fan following and seeing an angry fan after a loose puts extra pressure on you. Moreover Indian football is also becoming tougher day by day.
However I have learnt and am learning more in East Bengal than in Air India. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank Air India Coach Bimal Ghosh who brought me from Sikkim to play for Air India at a time when no one trusted junior and uncapped players. I would like to thank him for having faith in me and providing me a solid platform. I will ever remain indebted to him.
BB: Is there any part of your game you still would like to improve?
Sanju Pradhan: Obviously. I need to improve a lot in every department of my game. However I stress on perfecting my final pass which can result in a goal. My Coach says I make lots of error with my final passes which I am also aware off. I am also trying to improve my shooting and crossing. So, this are some aspect which I am working on at the moment.
BB: Someone from the Press has called you the ‘Indian Arjen Robben’ because of your strong right foot? I know you won’t agree to this comparison but how does it feels to be compared with someone of Robben’s stature?
Sanju Pradhan: It obviously feels good when you are being compared with someone of Robben’s stature. He is a great player and I like him. So its feel good thought I think I can never play like him. But you know comparisons also put extra pressure as people tends to have huge expectations from you and it sometimes becomes an extra baggage.
BB: With Bhaichung floating a club ‘Sikkim United’ for I-League Div-II with the aim of qualifying for the I-League, don’t you feel like playing for them which represent your home state?
Sanju Pradhan: Yes definitely, I would like to play for Sikkim United. But as of now I have a contract with East Bengal. Moreover it will be good for Sikkim and its people to have a club representing the state in the I-League. Just look at the fans of Lajong. It’s so amazing. I hope the same will happen with Sikkim United.
BB: So with the I-League going in for a revamp next season, how are you gearing up for that?
Sanju Pradhan: It’s good that I-League is going in for a revamp. It will be a great boom for the Indian Football. But as of now I don’t have any idea as to what changes it will bring. As a player, I have to prepare myself like every other game irrespective of the changes coming in.
BB: Is there any target that you have set for yourself in the coming years?
Sanju Pradhan: Yes I do always set a target for myself. When I was in the academy I always dreamt of playing for East Bengal which has been fulfilled. Air India provided me the perfect platform. Now my target is to play for the senior national team.
BB: When shall we expect to see you amongst the “Men in Blue”?
Sanju Pradhan: I don’t know. I wonder whether it will ever happen also. But I am working hard and I hope I will get the call one day.
BB: It’s a question that I should not ask you at this point of time when you have just started your career. But still for your fans, how would you like to be remembered after your football career?
Sanju Pradhan: I have lots of dreams and aspirations. I would like to play for the National team and also for some good foreign clubs. Playing in good foreign clubs and contributing to the success of the national team will be good for me. I would just like to emulate what Bhaichung has done for Indian football. I know I can never match his feet. But I will be satisfied even if I can reach close to him. I wish to be remembered as a player who has done something for his nation.
BB: Any message you would like to give it to your fans or readers?
Sanju Pradhan: Yes…I would like to thank Indian Football fans for supporting and backing us all the time. Without fans we are nothing. I wish more football fans turn up from the whole country as it is in North East, Kolkata or Goa. I would also like to thank football journalists who are making every attempt to make the game popular in India and see a new light.
BB: Thanks a lot for speaking to us Sanju. I on behalf of sportskeeda wish you a very good luck.
Sanju Pradhan: Thanks a lot to you too and I also wish sportskeeda a grant success.