ISL 2016: Prabir Das - The ultimate utility man
It’s hard to miss Prabir Das with his unusual blonde mop of hair as he trots up and down the pitch in Atletico de Kolkata colours in this season of the Indian Super League. His scruffy black beard and blonde hair may seem inspired by Lionel Messi or even Alberto Moreno but more than the fashion statement, it’s his play that has caught the eye.
It’s not only his hair that has been eye-catching. The young man has been quite impressive as a left-back for ATK, a team that has one of the best defensive records so far this season and were unbeaten until their match against Mumbai City FC this past Tuesday.
Adapting to changes from an early age
For ardent followers of the game in India, it might seem strange to see Prabir Das play in the position of left-back as most of them are used to seeing him play as a right-back for Mohun Bagan. But even long before joining the Kolkata giants, Das started off as a winger with Pailan Arrows when he signed for them in 2012. However, when that role didn’t work out for him, Das moved to the position of a defender.
A change of position didn’t seem to curb his attacking instincts as the young man scored two goals for the club in the one season that he spent with them. One came during the Indian Federation Cup in 2012 and the other in the I-League in the same year.
He then moved on to Dempo SC for a year-long loan before signing a two-year contract with Mohun Bagan in 2015. In fact, it was at Dempo where Das picked up the knack of being a utility man for whichever team he played for under manager Arthur Papas.
“I can play in two-three different positions because Arthur Papas made me play like that and I think I can do it. If a coach thinks he can use me differently in the team I cooperate,” said Das ahead of ATK’s fifth game this season.
Even at Mohun Bagan, Das had been used to moving around quite a bit within the team. “I played as a right-back for the team in the I-League and as a right winger in the Calcutta Football League,” pointed out Das who doesn’t seem to think playing in different positions will harm him. “If I have to play as a defender I will attack less and concentrate on defending. If I play as an attacker, I worry less about defending. I’ll just keep giving my 100 percent while I play,” said Prabir confidently.
However, since he has joined ATK, the manager, Jose Molina seems to have pegged him as a left-back and has started all of the team’s games except two games. However, the Kolkata outfit is not his first taste of the ISL. He signed for FC Goa in the inaugural season and played only one game. The next year, he was recruited by Delhi Dynamos but failed to make any appearances at all.
“I played just one match under Zico Sir (FC Goa manager). He gave me a chance and I couldn’t make the most of it. I had to sit in the gallery because I couldn’t make it into the team,” recalls the Mohun Bagan youngster. “The same thing happened in Delhi. Roberto Carlos didn’t play me, not because he is a bad coach. It’s a matter of liking a player. Zico Sir might have liked me.”
Ahead of the third season of the ISL, Prabir had decided that he would do better than the previous two years. “While I was playing for Mohun Bagan this year, I decided that if I got the chance, I would sign for ATK and try and get into the first team. I’ve already played a few matches, and I hope to continue this way.”
Now that he is finally a crucial part of the team, the defender seems to be noticing the differences and the similarities of playing in the two different tournaments in India. He believes that the two are on completely different levels. In spite of that, his dedication and preparation are unwavering.
“Preparation for a football match is always the same. Even when I played a friendly match in my locality, I prepare just as well then. Preparation always remains the same; it’s just that the standard is a little different between the two (I-League and ISL). Here I play with ATK’s marquee player Helder Postiga, and at Mohun Bagan, I play with Duffy. I don’t mean to belittle anyone, but here I’m getting the opportunity to play alongside famous players.”
“I never thought I’d be training with a player like Postiga and even others like Doutie, Hume, and Lara. I practice with them and learn so much and even share a dressing room with them – that is a big deal to me.”
ISL and I-League need to merge
Prabir may still have his training wheels on, so to speak, but he too notices the changing scene of Indian football. “We couldn’t have imagined something like the ISL before. We only used to play in the I-League. I say the standard is different because the I-League couldn’t get a player like Postiga. It’s not like Roberto Carlos would come either – that’s the only difference. The way the game is played is still the same.”
He also realizes the implications of having the tournaments being combined into one. “If the I-League and ISL are merged, famous players might not want to play even if they are offered a lot of money because they can’t move with their families for so long.”
“We talk to the players and discuss these things, but there will definitely be an improvement. It’s going to be good for us if the two come together.”
Prabir has even represented India at the 2012 AFC U-19 Championship qualifiers where he scored the third and final goal of the night ensuring India’s 3-1 victory over Turkmenistan. Since then, even though he has been selected for various national squads, he has found it difficult to break into the team. However, he refuses to give up. After all, he is just 22.
“If getting into the national team were up to me, I would have done it years ago, but it’s not. If they like me, I’m sure I’ll be called up.”
Prabir Das’ play has seen him even get the nod ahead of India’s no.1 at the right-back position; Pritam Kotal.
A touch of gold
While his play on the field has been a treat for the eyes, the same cannot be said about his exuberant choice of hair colour. The blonde theme has come into fashion ever since Lionel Messi fashioned it right after the Copa America. However, the 22-year-old football player claims that he dyed his hair blonde completely on a whim.
“The hair was my idea,” he said. “I felt like colouring my hair, so I did it. In fact, my scalp felt like it was on fire while I was getting my hair coloured.”
All kinds of Kolkata supporters will surely want the local boy to do well, no matter what position he plays in. He is a strong defender who is quick and enjoys delivering crosses that help his team go on the offensive. He is quite the threat during set pieces and looks like a solid player in ATK strips.
Here’s to many years of watching Prabir play!