Abneet Bharti has been giving young Indian players and fans alike a reason to dream since he was picked up by Spanish side Real Valladolid in 2014. Prior to this, he played for S-League side Balestier Khalsa FC’s youth side and Geylang United.
A versatile player, his positioning is akin to Jerome Boateng as he primarily plays as a centre-back but is versatile enough to man all defensive outposts, as well as play as the battering ram in midfield.
Such is his ability that at 16 years of age, he plays for both the U-16 as well as the U-19 sides at his club and was recently invited for a training cum trial stint at Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt and 2.Bundesliga sides 1860 Munchen, FSV Frankfurt and SV Darmstadt.
Keeping all these things in mind, I decided to have a sit down with one of India’s best youth prospects in decades and make official a few things that people keep hearing on the grapevine.
At 16, you have the experience of playing football in India, Singapore, Spain as well as Germany. How would you differentiate between the experience of playing in Asia and Europe?
Well, moving to Europe was a big step for me after coming from Asia. The football is also very different and level is also much higher, which I had already expected. The game in Asia is very slow and has less intensity compared to Europe. Clubs in Europe also have a better financial situation which leads to better facilities.
Although Spain and Germany both are in Europe, I experienced many significant changes in the style of play in both countries. The specific differences in style make the football differ from not only continent to continent but also country to country.
You play for the U-16 as well as the U-19 teams (of Real Valladolid), so what are the areas that you think a player develops most between both these age group categories?
Well technically the players are the same, but physically the U-19s are more mature. The game is also more intense as they make better decisions and have more tactical knowledge. There is a difference, but it's certainly not a big one.
How much emphasis is placed on the physical aspect of the game in Europe? Is the genetic composition of Indians unsuitable for this type of play in general or does it have something to do with the diet and method of training being applied?
Well, as I said it depends on the style of play. In Spain, the game is not physical and nor are the players. However, in Germany all the players were physical and the football was extremely physical too.
Most Indian players aren't physically strong and the major reason is genetics, however the diet is equally important. My parents are not tall (His father is 5 feet 6 inches while his mother is 5 feet 3 inches) but my height (6 feet 1 inch at 16 years) is the result of excellent nutrition, therefore it's not only because of genetics.
I think India should adopt a style of that depends on the players strengths in general instead of their weaknesses. For example, Japanese players are not physically superior, however they have a unique style which allows them succeed.
The Indian youth side (U-17) has been taken over by a German coach. Having trained at Eintracht (Frankfurt), 1860 Munchen, FSV (Frankfurt), and Darmstadt what could the change in personnel signify for the national team with respect to the style of play you observed in Germany?
The change in personnel from local to foreigners is what is needed for all age group sides. Well, these coaches have the right experience and knowledge of European football which the local coaches don't. Every coach has a specific style of play that he wants to implement in a team.
I think German football is more direct and physical and that won't work well with the Indian lads due to their (lack of) physicality, so the coach will hopefully implant a method of play ideal for the team.
With a large controversy being created over social media with respect to Indian youth sides featuring overage players, what is your take on the whole issue?
Well, I feel that it is one of the major reasons why India lacks at producing a good senior team. At youth stages and in age group competitions all the players who have faked their age perform exceptionally well however by the time they reach the senior squad they are already past their peak and are useless. This also leads to a loss of good talents who are not overage.
What are your views on the ISL? Could we see you playing for a franchise in the near future?
ISL is a superb platform In India. It is extremely good for the development of football in India. It has also managed to get the attention of people all over the world. Now in India, people have started to support their own teams and the stadium is always full packed. Overall, I feel ISL is doing a great job and will help develop the sport in the country.
Yes of course, I would love to play in ISL as it would be perfect for my development to get so much exposure and experience at this young age by playing with and learning from one of the most well known and experienced players and coaches.
If there is one thing you could advise youth footballers in India with respect to their development, what would it be?
Well, I would tell them to work hard for their dream and never give up. There will be many setbacks and failures but just keep your head up and keep on moving. Dream big and have big goals, but also be a bit realistic since you can't be playing for your school team or local academy and sign for Real (Madrid) the next day.
You need be patient and take a step at a time and keep working hard and hopefully the time will come. Never try to find an easy way or a shortcut to success. You can't be writing on Facebook that one day you will play for the best club in world and then go and lie on your bed and eat junk food.
I am working hard to become a professional myself and I can tell you it's not easy at all if it was then everybody will be Messi or Ronaldo. You have to make compromises. I have had to make so many already like moving away from my family to a new place with different people and a language that I don’t speak. It's tough but never impossible.
Your brother Aniket has started training with Balestier Khalsa FC’s U-13 side. Could we see him making a similar step up to a top club in Europe soon?
Yes, he just signed a youth contract with my former club. He will definitely make the step up to Europe but to an even bigger club and at even an even younger age. He is an extremely talented attacker who has the potential to make it as one of the most successful strikers in the European leagues.
With his current attitude, desire, skill and hard work he will certainly make it to the very top.
Finally, the question people have been begging me to ask you. What team do you support, and to whom do you look up to as a player?
Well since a young age, I have been following and supporting Arsenal. I try to learn from Mats Hummels, Thiago Silva and Sergio Ramos. I try to learn and analyze their play to learn from them.Published 16 Apr 2015, 15:38 IST