Experiences in life make you stronger and wiser. Presently playing at FC Vestsjaelland in Denmark, Indian National Team goalkeeper Subrata Pal informs the pace at which balls are hit in Danish football is just “astonishing”. In an exclusive interview to AIFF Media, Paul spoke at length about being back in the National camp, his experience in Denmark, practicing in minus six degrees, the Club structure, the discipline in the society, his new nickname and much more.
You are back in India. How does that feel?
It feels nice to be back in the National Team Camp. Playing for your Country has stayed such a moment of pride. I couldn’t be a part of the two International Friendlies in November 2013 and am looking forward to the match against Bangladesh. I headed to the Camp from some intense training and matches for my Club FC Vestsjaelland in Denmark.
Have you settled down in Denmark?
It was hard during the initial days. I was away from home and felt a bit homesick too. You may say that since my Tata Football Academy days I’ve always stayed outside. But this was a different country, an alien culture and I missed home. Hence, there’s no denying that at the outset, I struggled a bit.
Till now I was living in a Hotel but will be shifting to an Apartment after I go back. My Club bears the expense of my stay. But I will have to manage my own food. I will be commuting in my Club car.
My family hasn’t joined me as yet. But my wife will be staying with me from April onwards after she submits her PhD. Thesis on Music (from Calcutta University).
How helpful have your Teammates been?
Very much! The local Players always call me up and offer their help. Every alternate minute there’s someone asking whether I need anything or not. Right from Day one they went all out to make me feel at home and have embraced me. I am so thankful to all.
How difficult is it for an Indian footballer to settle down in such a Country?
(Subrata shakes his head). It’s very difficult. It’s an entirely different World. When I first landed, we had to practice in temperatures of minus six degrees or even less. Everything around me was just white. It used to snow. Obviously for someone travelling from India, it will be tough. However, it’s much comfortable now as the mercury is around two to three degrees at the moment.
So two to three degrees is your comfort zone?
(Subrata smiles and shakes his head again). “When you practice in minus six degrees, isn’t three degrees comfortable?” Subrata quips back. “Last week, it was around two degrees and I practiced in just one jersey.”
My eating habits have changed drastically and for good. I complete my dinner by 6.30pm. In fact, that’s the culture.
How did you find the practice sessions?
Till now, we have mostly practiced two sessions in a day, both in the morning and evening. You just cannot miss the quality of the practice sessions. It’s tough, of very high intensity and is no different from a match situation. Everyone is committed 110 percent during practice sessions. Your colleagues will come at you hard yet not ever harm you. There’s so much system in practice. The quality of training is just awesome. I am enjoying it.
We even had an off-season Camp in Spain for a fortnight.
What about the intensity during a Match?
What is preached and enacted in practice is transferred to the Match. When you practice it day in and out, it becomes a habit. It’s played at such a fast pace. If you are able to hold your rival for a fraction of a second or maybe a second, there are two more Teammates who are by your side to support you. It’s up and down for 90 minutes. There’s no cursing at your Colleagues ever; there’s no shrugging of the shoulder ever. If you take a decision, your Colleagues respect it.
Tell us more about the Club structure of FC Vestsjaelland.
The Club has 153 Sponsors on board. (Subrata pauses and stresses – 153 Sponsors). And mind you, it’s not the highest-ranked Club in Denmark. And if you ask me about the facilities, I can only inform that the Club has four practice grounds, out of which two are artificial turfs. This apart, there is the main Stadium where the matches are played. Summing it up, it’s five grounds for one Club.
All the grounds are soft, lush and so much conducive for good sessions and it’s all under floodlights.
What is the atmosphere of a match-day like?
On the match-day, all the 153 sponsors will come and have lunch together. They bring their families along with them too. They chat, they bond, they dine, engage in recreational activities and go on to watch the match. The match-day is a Festival. It’s the day which everyone waits for.
Even the Players stay so relaxed on the D-day. There’s no tension at all. On match day, you will find them joking, playing cards or video games, singing or maybe even dancing. But the moment they step on to the field, everything else stays immaterial. Players will commit themselves 200 percent, come out and relax again.
How much stress is paid to Youth Development?
That stays the backbone of the Club; in fact, every Club. FC Vestsjaelland are playing in the Super League for the first-time but their age-group Academies speak about their vision. They have age-group Academies in U-12, U-15, U-17 and U-19 categories. The scouting process is foolproof and no compromises are ever done. And the scouts are so honest. They won’t ever pitch for their near and dear ones. Talent will never go waste and never stay unspotted.
How do they approach community development?
It’s all in the system. For example, the Contract states that you ought to sign autographs for the fans on a day in the week. Then another day, the Senior Team Goalkeepers will have to go and train the U-19 Goalkeepers. The Clubs make the fans and the Players feel being a part of the setup.
There’s so much mutual respect for each other in the society. At times I feel there’s no ‘I-me-myself’ in the psyche of the Danish Nationals. Never on the road will you see someone trying to go prior to the other. Instead, he will always wait for the other to pass in his Car.
You mean to say, it’s all so disciplined.
Surely! And it boils down to Football. For example, in the Dressing Room, you will always have to keep your Mobile Phones on the silent mode. If you want to talk, you need to go outside and talk. If anyone breaches it, he is fined.
On the field, as a Goalkeeper, I don’t need to shout much. Maintaining the shape is something which they are taught right at their childhood. They just don’t go out of shape. As a Goalkeeper, at times, I just need to caution my colleague about the rival, maybe, coming from the blind side. That’s all.
You always had a dream of playing abroad. Has it been fulfilled?
Not yet. I am yet to play in the Super League. I have played in the Reserve League. Let that be the stepping stone. If I am able to achieve a long-term contract, I would say that my dream has been fulfilled.
Tell us more about the Reserve League.
Mostly Clubs sign a 25-member squad for the Season. In a match, you can’t have more than 14 Players playing. Those Players who don’t play in the Super League, play the next Reserve League match. It’s compulsory for all so that everyone stays match-fit. So on one day, the best Player of a certain Club will play a Reserve League match. The other day when we played FC Kobenhavn, striker Daniel Braaten played in the match. I later learnt he had scored the match-winner against Galatasaray in the Champions League when FC Kobenhavn won one-nil.
My Coach lauded me for my efforts in the match. It meant a lot to me.
Interestingly enough, there’s a relegation process which is also involved in the Reserve League as well.
Do they call you the Spiderman?
(Subrata feels a bit shy). Spiderman? (Subrata laughs). My Teammates have started calling me ‘Paul, the Wall.’ I that this as a compliment.
How much of all this is a learning process for you?
My skills are being fine-tuned. When I first joined the Club, there was quite a difference in Goalkeeping standards between their Keepers and me. The gap has narrowed down. At the outset I was a bit shaky and had doubts. Now I just want to continue and do better.
At the outset, the pace at which they hit the balls was a bit surprising to me. During my initial days, I used to wonder as to how a Human Being can shoot a ball so hard. But now I have settled down.