Interview with Parth Upadhyay - My dream is to play UEFA Champions League
According to the 2001 census, Banswara, Rajasthan has a population of 1,01,177. According to the 1999 Kazakh census, Temirtau, Kazakhstan has a population of 1,70,481. This is where the similarities between the two cities end. That and the fact that Banswara native Parth Upadhyay has called both places home. And now, having been on trial with FC Bolat of Temirtau for a while, on the brink of a professional contract, Parth is determined to call Temirtau home for just a while longer.
Parth embodies the spirit of nouveau India, where old ceilings of stability and maintaining a consistent source of income have been replaced by a determination to dream big and aggressively seizing opportunities when they come your way. “My dream is to play UEFA Champions League and it is not possible while playing in India. When you are in Europe you have to start from scratch. Jamie Vardy, (Riyadh) Mahrez, (N’golo) Kante, they all started from the leagues not better then I-league and (are) now champions of England.”
This was his response when asked about why he didn’t choose to ply his trade in India.
Born and raised in Banswara, Parth had always pictured himself as a professional footballer. The sweltering summers of Rajasthan, the dusty and unlevelled playgrounds and the lack of a professional set up of any form were but irrelevant obstacles, always meant to be overcome by the boy who plays as a defensive midfielder and idolises Andrea Pirlo. Just like the bearded opportunist from Italy, Parth has an eye for a pass and a vision of what is to unfold.
It was at the LNM Institute of Information Technology where he first got a sniff of the opportunity of a lifetime. A Summer Internship Program at ArcelorMittal, a multinational steel manufacturing corporation, meant that twenty-five students from the university would get the opportunity to visit ArcelorMittal’s facility at Temirtau. It was about at this time that his brother, Shrey, Player Manager of the Banswara-based football academy Islands United FC, who had himself visited Kazakhstan in 2012, started calling a few of his old friends to ascertain whether anyone would take his brother on trial.
“I knew if I just put in a great amount of work now, I was going to get to see Kazakhstan. I also knew that once I was there and if we could get in touch with a club there who would let me try out for them, I would give it everything I have and more,” says the tactically astute defensive midfielder when asked about what he felt like during that period in time.
Shrey eventually managed to get in touch with one Uliana Moiseeva, a player agent, who helped set up a trial at the club which plays in the Kazakh First Division. Parth knew that it was the chance he had been waiting for. However, along with scoring the marks required to get to Temirtau, there was also the small matter of shedding about thirty-five kilogrammes of weight, the midfielder had put on while pursuing academic glory in college.
“The most important thing for me was that FC Bolat is also associated with Shakhter Karagandy (which is) just (a) 40 minutes drive away. Shakhter Karagandy is a regular participant in UEFA Competitions, (they) also played in Group stage of UEFA Europa League 2013-14 season. This year FC Astana played in the Group Stage of UEFA Champions League alongside Galatasaray, Benfica and the runners-up Atletico Madrid. This shows that Kazakhstan Football is growing. I would definitely get the exposure I need.”
Long story short, Parth shed the kilos, got the requisite grade and boarded the plane to Kazakhstan.
New challenges awaited him there.
Industrial Training, especially at a large corporation like ArcelorMittal is a time-intensive exercise. They expect their employees to give the hallowed learning experience the respect they believe it deserves. This was the conundrum now facing Parth. He had a nine to five gig which included lectures and site visits along with a hectic training schedule where he had to put his tired body through the ringer. Parth’s single-mindedness and refusal to fail once again came to the fore.
“The days are very long here. It is morning at 4.30 AM and it remains day till 9.30 PM. I have lecture from 9 PM to 12 PM post which I attend the team training session at Metallurg Stadium. After the training I have to visit the company plant to learn about automation. So it is not like I am sacrificing my training for my trials. I am managing my time and using it to the fullest. I have done it in my college days and I am used to it,” says the boy who has skipped many a meal to balance work and play.
The trial itself is a dream come true for the boy from Banswara, who took a while to get used to the frigid temperatures of Central Asia and is still working on trying to understand his teammates. “I am regularly training with the FC Bolat first team. I also visited their dressing rooms while they plan before their game. The first game I was with the team they won 2-0 in a friendly match. Manager, coach and players all are happy to see a foreign player playing with them.
“They played English song(s) in the dressing room so that I can understand. The atmosphere is very good here. Although my first training was in rain and it was very cold but I enjoyed a lot. The manager and coach will give their final verdict and recommendation after one month of training. I am confident to get some positive from here.”
Parth’s story should inspire us all. There is nothing that stops this Gooner (an Arsenal fan) from getting his way. He is somewhat uncharacteristically shy when asked about what he wants to say to those who want to follow in his footsteps. Perhaps, he believes there is much more to achieve before he can shell out advice. “Well I am not as much qualified for this question but anyways I will tell them that you have got only one life and make it count. Don’t look for money, look for opportunities.”
“If your dream is to make a lot of money and having a celebrity status by playing football, you are wrong and you will achieve nothing. My dream has always been to play in good infrastructure with the good players in a good atmosphere. My dream is to play against the best football players of the world at the biggest platform of the world.
“There are players as good as me or even better than me but they will not make their dreams come true because they did not believe their dreams and feared to travel so far with the possibility of getting rejected. Only those who have the courage to risk everything can achieve anything”.
Born into a country where the local footballers struggle to capture the public’s imagination and would rather look to England and Spain for their football heroes, can you blame him for trying his very best to take his skills abroad in order to get noticed? It is just a happy coincidence that Parth has become a pioneer of sorts along the way.
So if any of you do visit Kazakhstan in the near future, decide to watch FC Bolat play, and happen to chance across a leggy midfielder with an eye for a pass, please do cheer for him and try to engage him in a conversation after the match. His positivity and unbridled enthusiasm for the game of football will definitely overwhelm you. And although you will feel the urge, please refrain from pre-ambling with a, “Dr.Livingstone I presume.”