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ISL 2016: Interview - Football in India will change after 2017 U-17 World Cup, says Subrata Pal

An exclusive interview with Arjuna Awardee and star Indian goalkeeper Subrata Pal, who plays for NorthEast United in this season's ISL.

Subrata Pal
Subrata Pal has signed for NorthEast United in this season’s ISL (Image Courtesy: ISL)

Subrata Pal needs no introduction; a stalwart of Indian football and one of the best goalkeepers in India. The latest signing of NorthEast United was recently awarded the prestigious Arjuna Award, which came as a big boost to the Indian football community, five years after Sunil Chhetri was presented with the same award.

We caught up with this star goalkeeper after the ISL 3 opener for a freewheeling interview. Here are the excerpts.

Q: Can you tell us about your first NorthEast United match experience? You played in front of a packed stadium, how was the feeling?

Winning is always good and in a tournament like this, the first match is really important. And we got the three points. I was really surprised to see a full packed audience, which was full when we entered the stadium.

On our way, we got stuck in a traffic jam. I was very surprised and I have always respected North East supporters. The last two years, I played here in the away team, and this year I can feel the support as a member of the home side. For me, it was a very very good experience and hopefully, in the coming matches, they continue to support us like they did yesterday.

Q: You had a brief stint with a Danish club, FC Vestsjaelland. Can you share with us your experience?

I was with a Danish club for half a year and it was my biggest experience in my football career. The training facilities, the matches are totally different. I don’t want to compare our country’s league and the Danish league. There is a huge difference.

I have learnt a lot from them and I wish, in the future, many players from India will go and play outside India. It will be a big boost for football in India.

Q: Do you have any more plans of going out of India and playing?

It’s my dream to play in Europe. If I still get a chance, I would love to go out of India and play for a club. My agent is working on it, if I get any opportunities, I will let you know.

Q: India’s very own Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is playing abroad and doing really well. What do you think about him?

Gurpreet is like my younger brother. He has always been in contact with me. If he needs anything, I am always there and I wish him good luck and I hope he makes us proud. He should play in higher leagues; it’s good for our country. He is our flag bearer.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
Gurpreet (in pic) and Subrata are the leading goalkeepers in India currently

Q: In the current breed, we have a lot of good goalkeepers, right from Rehenesh TP to Laxmikant Kattimani, and even keepers in the lower age groups. How should we develop these goalkeepers?

It’s not only now, but even in the past, India produced many good goalkeepers like Tarun Bose, Rupesh Mukherjee. Several big names in goalkeeping came out of our country. We, in India, have always produced good goalkeepers. History has it.

We are just trying to carry on this thing. And in the future, our junior boys will keep the flag high. I think out of 10 goalkeepers, 5 should go out and play, in Europe or elsewhere like Japan or Korea.

And if I can help any junior grow, I am always free to help.

Q: You were recently awarded the prestigious Arjuna Award, how do you feel about getting the award? And do you think you were awarded a bit late?

I never played for any award. I am very happy to accept the award. The Arjuna award is one of the highest awards in sports for any Indian, not just in football and I am very proud to be awarded it.

I was very excited when I got to know about it. It’s a different kind of experience which I can’t share the feeling in words. This is a very different feeling.

Q: There are a few people who say that you are past your prime. What do you think of that?

People who say that I am past my prime are all my wishers because they love me and expect better performances from me. I take it in a very positive way.

Everybody has different thoughts. People can say what they think. What I think is, when I am on the ground, I will give my best, my 100%. Whatever is the result, I should be happy about what I give on the pitch. I am always satisfied.

Q: Has the popularity of Indian football increased after the ISL? Is it going the right way?

Yes, it’s true, because of the ISL, huge things are happening for Indian football. And now I think we are on the way up. And I personally think after the 2017 U17 FIFA World Cup, Indian football will change.

We are going in the right way, and in the coming years, in 5 or 10 years, India will be a footballing superpower of Asia like Korea, Iran, and Japan. We are on the way.

Q: What do you think of the grassroots programs that are in place across the country?

There is talent in India. I won’t believe if you say we don’t. We are 1.2 billion people, we have to find them and we have to groom them. And ISL teams are doing that with their grassroots programs. They are working really hard on it and we will definitely do well. 

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