Football through the eyes of Jammu & Kashmir coaches 

Mehrajuddin Wadoo is a well-known coaching figure from the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir
Mehrajuddin Wadoo is a well-known coaching figure from the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir

Amidst all the bad news that has come out of the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir in recent years, football has started making its mark in the valley. From conflicts between paramilitary forces and civilians to militancy, the region has been mired in controversies.

Although it is nowhere close to West Bengal, Goa, Kerala, or North-East India in terms of popularity, it has produced its own share of national and international footballers.

In the 1980s, Abdul Majeed Kakroo became the first player from Jammu & Kashmir to captain the Indian football team and was also one of the highest-paid Indian footballers of his time.

Apart from him, others like Farooq Ahmed Bhat and Shafi Nari continued to serve as inspirations for future generations of footballers. However, their path wasn't laid on a bed of roses.

"The situation during my playing days was terrible. There were curfews and so many restrictions. We missed out on a generation of players and there was no football happening for a couple of years. When I used to meet players and coaches at the national camp, they used to ask me if I was reciting the tale of a movie or speaking the truth," recalls former Indian women's team coach Sajid Dar in an interview with Sportskeeda.

Sajid is the son of Mohammad Yousuf Dar, one of the first professional footballers from Jammu & Kashmir who also represented Mohammedan S.C. during its heydays.

Following his playing career, Sajid became the assistant coach of the India U19 team under Colm Toal before taking charge of the Indian national women's football team.

Sajid, alongside former Indian international footballer Mehrajuddin Wadoo, recently conducted an online coaching workshop for Jammu & Kashmir coaches.

Organized by the Association of Indian Football Coaches (AIFC) and the Reliance Foundation Youth Sports (RFYS), it saw the participation of around 32 coaches from different parts of the union territory.

Dr. Burhan Wani, one of the participants of the webinar and an AIFF physiotherapist since 2018, found it immensely helpful. However, like any other coach from Jammu & Kashmir, he too had to undergo his own fair share of challenges before making a mark.

"Working on the scenario was tough earlier. There were no teams from J&K in I-League and Second Division. We were lacking professionalism. I am the first physiotherapist from the Jammu & Kashmir region to work with AIFF at the national and international level. I had no one to seek guidance or advice from. But, I learnt my work with time," Wani says.

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The current generation of footballers from Jammu & Kashmir

Real Kashmir FC footballer Danish Farooq
Real Kashmir FC footballer Danish Farooq

Following the retirement of Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Ishfaq Ahmed, Jammu & Kashmir were bereft of any footballer in the I-League for a long time. However, that has changed in recent years.

Real Kashmir FC has proved to be a great platform for players like Danish Farooq to showcase his talent. After his five-year stint at the club, reports indicate he has signed a contract with ISL team Bengaluru FC.

Muheet Shabir Khan, who gave a trial with India U19 and Tata Football Academy, played as a goalkeeper for Kerala Blasters reserves two seasons back. Meanwhile, Sajad Hussain Parray represented Indian Arrows in the I-League last season and Suhail Bhat played for India U16 internationally a couple of years back.

"We (Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Sajid Dar) took the initiative to scout players from all 22 districts of Jammu & Kashmir and found Sajad and Suhail to be extremely good. So, we recommended them to Bibiano and he was impressed with their abilities. If they stay in a good direction and play for more years, they can make it to the senior national team," Wadoo says.

Mehrajuddin Wadoo was the last international footballer from Jammu & Kashmir to play for India. But no one has been able to repeat the feat since 2011. It remains to be seen whether Danish, Muheet, Sajad, or Suhail can take over the mantle and make the Valley proud.

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Edited by Rohit Mishra
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