The incredible performances in the 2011 Asian Cup has certainly been the highlight of Subrata Pal’s career so far as he got noticed internationally during that tournament, earning the nickname of ‘Spiderman’ from the South Korean media.
Almost three years after those unbelievable saves in Qatar, Subrata has created history by becoming the first Indian footballer to secure a professional contract with a top tier European club. The custodian has signed the six-month contract that was offered to him by Danish Superliga outfit FC Vestsjaelland back in November.
Also known as FCV Vikings, Vestsjaelland is owned by Anglian Holdings, which also holds a stake in Shillong Lajong. The club got promoted to the top tier of Danish football this season and Subrata is joining them on loan from IMG-Reliance until June. He is expected to be in Denmark early next week.
Back in 1936 Mohammed Salem played a few friendlies for Glasgow Celtic but gave up the chance of joining them as he returned to India due to home sickness and then in 1999 Bhaichung Bhutia joined English third tier outfit Bury FC where he endured an injury-stricken three-year spell. Most recently, current India captain Sunil Chhetri spent seven months at Sporting Lisbon ‘B’, who play in Portugal’s second tier.
Subrata has clearly achieved something extraordinary but he is still not getting carried away. In this exclusive chat, Sportskeeda found out that the 2009 AIFF Player of the Year is determined to reach greater heights.
“Ever since I started playing I wanted to get an opportunity like this but I will only be excited when I become a regular there. It was a great experience earlier to train at such a high level but getting a contract is just the first step because now I have to work harder and get into the first eleven. That is the challenge ahead and hopefully I will be to achieve it,” Subrata told Sportskeeda on Thursday evening.
The India international earned this move to Denmark after impressing the Vestsjaelland coaching staff, especially goalkeeping coach Carsten Kamstrup, during his three week trials there last year. But Subrata is well aware of the difficulties his national teammate Sunil Chhetri faced at MLS outfit Kansas City Wizards and Sporting Lisbon ‘B’ in getting into the first team.
Being a goalkeeper, the man from Sodepur faces an even tougher task as coaches rarely rotate in that position but Subrata is not putting any additional pressure on himself and is focused on doing well at every opportunity during his Denmark venture.
“I have never put any pressure on myself. I have always tried to enjoy the game and that remains the case now also. There is no point thinking about what has happened in the past but I will try to give my best in order to become a first team regular and eventually if that doesn’t happen it won’t be the end of the world, I will come back and play in the I-League again,” he said.
The Danish Superliga will start again from February after a two and half month winter break but Vestsjaelland, who are currently just two points above the relegation zone, will resume their training from Monday and even play some friendlies this month to get ready for the second half of the season.
Subrata could be featuring in some of those friendly games and his new club will also be taking part in this year’s Copa del Sol. It is an invitational tournament that takes place on the south coast of Spain in January-February and is used by clubs to get match practice during long winter breaks. Clubs like Shakhtar Donetsk, CSKA Moscow usually participate and Subrata could be in action against them.
The former Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Pune FC and United SC goalkeeper will be aiming to impress in those friendlies and is already looking forward to the challenge of adapting to a new lifestyle in Denmark.
“The food won’t be a problem as in any case I am on a strict diet even at home. Adjusting to the weather won’t be easy but then again that’s part of being a professional footballer. We see foreigners adapting and getting used to the high temperatures in India so a player must not complain and get on with such aspects,” he said.
Before signing for the Danish club, Subrata had a brief loan spell at Rangdajied United and helped the Shillong club pick up the first two wins of their debut I-League campaign including a man-of-the-match performance away at one of his former clubs Mohun Bagan.
The 2007-08 I-League goalkeeper of the year believes the country’s biggest domestic competition has had significant improvement from the time when he played his first top flight season in the old National Football League.
“I think the key improvement is that the league is a lot more competitive now. No team is guaranteed of a win in any fixture because there is hardly any difference in quality between the first and the last side. The evening kickoffs have also seen more fans coming to the grounds which is a very good sign. Overall I feel the standard of football has gone up,” Subrata opined.
2013 wasn’t a good year for the Indian national team as they failed to qualify for the AFC Challenge Cup and also couldn’t retain the SAFF Championship. But Subrata believes that the senior team is heading in the right direction under Wim Koevermans and is hopeful of playing international friendlies on FIFA match dates in 2014 also.
“What is noticeable now with the national team is that it has started playing regularly on the FIFA match dates. There are a lot of new faces in the team but they are benefitting from regular international matches. Hopefully that will continue this year also and with the FIFA Under-17 World Cup on the horizon, I feel Indian football is on the way up,” he stated.
Subrata is clearly not a person who likes to reflect on the past and thus only wants to look back on his achievements when he retires. But when the Bob Houghton era was mentioned to the 27-year-old he acknowledged the Englishman’s contribution.
“That phase was very important for me but I must say football is a team game so you are only able to perform and in my case make vital saves, if you have good teammates. I was lucky enough to be part of a very good team that had a great coach,” said the player who has 67 senior international caps for the country.
Goalkeepers generally peak as they get older so Subrata’s fans have every right to think that the India number one’s best years are still ahead of him but the player himself remains grounded.
“Statistically worldwide we have seen keepers get better with experience but I can’t predict the future and must keep working hard. I just want to stay healthy and keep playing the way I can as long as possible.”
Subrata can be rest assured that every Indian football follower will be praying for the same.Published 03 Jan 2014, 06:10 IST