ISL 2017: FC Pune City’s Kean Lewis reflects on Leicester City stint for inspiration towards India selection
Kean Lewis wasn’t the first pick in the Indian Super League draft last month, but he was the first name to go the instant trade route when his current club, FC Pune City’s call was challenged by champions ATK.
That probably was a visible manifestation of how Lewis is seen in Indian football quarters?—?a dynamic forward who can score and create goals arguably better than any other Indian but is ridiculously undervalued. That undervaluation is probably because Lewis hasn’t yet played for the Indian national team. And that stands to change soon if Lewis is to be believed.
His number one target at the moment is catching the eyes of India head coach Stephen Constantine. Constantine has given debuts to more than 30 players during his second spell as India coach, but Lewis isn’t one of them.
During the 2016-17 I-League, Lewis played for Mohun Bagan but persistent injuries meant he made only one appearance all season. Bagan lost the title race to upstarts Aizawl FC, and Lewis?—?touted as the next big thing after his ISL 2016 exploits?—?faded into oblivion. India has made big leaps this calendar year both on and off the pitch and Lewis has missed it all. Besides, he was even offered lesser wages at former club Delhi Dynamos before the ISL draft, a clear sign of his drop in stock.
However, the man from Thane has been through tougher situations before and come out of them better and wiser. One of those was at 2015–16 Premier League champions Leicester City, back when he was a teenager.
The wide-eyed teenager Lewis had caught the eye of English agents during his time at the Premier India Football Academy (PIFA). The contacts of those agents in England and around the UK led the young Kean to a stint in what could still be called rarefied surrounds of English football. Leicester were a Championship club back then but had an elite setup, like most English clubs at the top end.
All of 13 years old, Lewis straight away caught the eye of the watching coaches and scouts. Speaking to Sportskeeda, the tricky winger said: “As soon as I arrived at Leicester, I was put into the club’s U-14 team during pre-season. I was the top scorer for the U-14s and ended up playing with the club’s U-16s during my one-and-a-half month stint there.
“I was tried in different attacking combinations with the U-16s and the coaches convinced me that if I come back to England after the completion of my current stint, I could develop beyond my current level.”
To get such appreciation from Premier League coaches was incredible for an Indian player.
Lewis had certainly attracted eyeballs with his goalscoring exploits, but at 13, facing a crossroads would be difficult. Family issues?—?his father was a businessman and mother a housewife?—?meant that relocating to the UK wasn’t feasible. Furthermore, there were visa problems caused by Lewis being a minor.
“I was only 13 and it was a big decision [to send me back to Leicester]. If my family had moved to England, they would’ve had to start from scratch. We had no extended family in England and no one in my family had ever taken sports as a profession. All those factors meant that I didn’t follow up on my time at Leicester and ended up moving to the United States instead.
“I’d have gone [back to Leicester] if it was solely my decision. I wasn’t legally an adult so couldn’t buy a house in England. My parents also weren’t that established at that time to take a big financial risk. Playing in England is now a far-fetched dream,” he added.
Lewis’ still dreams of the Premier League but is now more realistic about his prospects. He believes that being among the top 23-25 Indian players (getting an India call-up) would benefit him immensely in his pursuit of playing at a higher level. He impressed in England but never managed to go back due to situations out of his hand, establishing himself in the US and Mexico instead. He came out stronger from his Leicester disappointment, something he can learn from in his quest for an elusive India cap.
Injury troubles have stopped Lewis from making the big step up into the national team so far, but at FC Pune City next season, he has the chance to once again prove a point to Constantine and co, if his past ISL form is anything to go by.