ISL 2018-19: Pune City's Sahil Panwar fulfilling footballer dad's dream, eyes national glory
January 13. Sahil Panwar's phone, although on silent mode, was hardly silent throughout those 90 minutes.
While the FC Pune City defender was enjoying his Indian Super League (ISL) debut against Chennaiyin FC at the Tamil Nadu capital city, his father Deepak Panwar, also a footballer, shed some happy tears seeing his son on a TV screen.
It was a memorable moment for the Panwars in Dehradun, the capital city of Uttarakhand many miles to the north of Chennai, as the 18-year-old Sahil's inclusion into the Playing XI came as a pleasant surprise.
Forget the senior Panwar, even Sahil did not know until before the match that he would play for FC Pune City.
"It was a big opportunity for me," Sahil said, recalling his debut. "What made it more exciting was that I did not know I would play that game against Chennaiyin FC. As I was about to board the bus to go to the stadium, the coach (Ranko Popovic) pulled me close and said that I would be playing the game today.
"I didn't know whether he was serious or not. Seeing my reaction, he said that I will have to just play my natural game against Chennaiyin FC. He asked me to do the same thing that you do everyday in practice and you will be fine.
"He told me that there was no pressure that I will either have to change some technique or score a goal - 'just be yourself'.
"My father was extremely happy too about my debut. He obviously didn't know that I was going to play that day. If I found out while heading to the stadium, he found out when he tuned into the TV and saw the Playing XI of both the teams.
"He called me up after the match and told me that he's happy. But here's the thing about my father. No matter how big the game is, if he has watched it, he will tell me what I did wrong and how I can improve."
The father-son connection between Deepak and Sahil has seen the latter develop into an adept defender and a captain of the Indian junior football team. Deepak, a national level player who has represented Uttarakhand in the Santosh Trophy, gave Sahil and his sister Raksha their first lessons in football at a gravel ground in Dehradun.
Fast forward to this day, Sahil has found himself challenging for a starting position at FC Pune City while his sister too is part of the women's team setup.
"We would go running every morning in Dehradun and that's how I started playing," Sahil said. "My father retired when I was about six or seven years old but even before that, he used to take my sister and me out for training. She started playing first and I followed. Now, she plays in Delhi.
"If the three of us play together, my father can still beat the two of us and that's how good he was. He's the best in the family for sure, even if I go on to represent the senior national team.
"Talking about all this makes me miss Dehradun. I miss my hometown and the weather. There's snowfall sometimes and it's so beautiful there. But it's okay because I understand that one has to sacrifice a few things to do well in life. I left my hometown in 2014 to join the Pune academy."
Sahil has already reaped the fruit of his sacrifice through the junior team call-up. He captained India at the 2017 U-18 SAFF Cup in Bhutan and has already shown traits of a leader for Pune City last season.
"The time with the Indian U-18 team was a memorable one for me as I got to lead the tricolour in a tournament," Sahil said. "I was definitely excited about it. The best part about it all was that I didn't have to control the players much.
"They knew what they had to do. I just asked them not to give any room for pressure or feel different about playing away from home (in Bhutan).
"The Bhutan weather was great and there were a lot of Indians rooting for us there too, which lifted me up. But somehow, we were unable to deliver our best and finished third. It happens."
But his biggest goal is to earn a senior international cap for India. And that dream too doesn't look far away.
"It's extremely difficult for a junior player to be handed an opportunity to make the first XI of an ISL team. The coach likes to field a young squad but that's just not it. You also have to prove yourself day after day in practice and convince the coach that you deserve to be on the pitch," Sahil said.
"As for this season, I hope to get more playing chances so that I can quickly graduate into the senior national team setup. I know it takes a lot more hard work and I am ready to do it.
"Football is everything for me now. Even when I am not practising, I watch videos on YouTube and see where I can improve my game. I also look into my own videos and see where I have gone wrong."