The Indian Dream: Can Sunil’s Coventry Adventure Inspire India?

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Sunil Chhetri’s Coventry City trial could have on Indian football and asks whether it could inspire the nation…..

Saturday evening at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata. Sunil Chhetri quickly walks out of the East Bengal dressing room and marches towards his car. Yours truly runs towards him and asks him for his views on his trials at Coventry City.

The young Sunil doesn’t say much, merely uttering, "Let’s see. I have no idea how it is going to turn out there" in an attempt either not to flare up expectation or raise hype or not to tempt fate. Or maybe both. He is followed by two or three teenage East Bengal supporters who fall all over him just for a handshake or two.

He gets into the backseat of the car and shuts the door. The car is about to kickstart into action when the woman who sells ‘lodgens’ (local chocolates costing a rupee or two, sometimes even less) comes near the door.

She is an East Bengal supporter through and through and wears the club’s colours proudly on herself. Everyone at the Salt Lake Stadium knows her; perhaps they know her better than then they know Sunil. She comes near Sunil’s car but queerly doesn’t try to sell anything.

Far from it, she actually blesses him in the same way that your mother would bless you on the day of his final board exam: kissing him, ruffling his hair and praying for him to the Lord, an amalgamation of deep concern and exotic hope etched on her face. Sunil is in a hurry - he has got packing to do, then has a flight to catch for Delhi and has a heck load of thoughts whirling in his head: after all he is flying off to England for what is easily the biggest thing that has ever happened to him and possibly Indian football as well, but he allows for this weirdly touching ceremony to continue. For a couple or so minutes. And then his car vanishes into the dim distance.

Maybe this is one more instance of romanticism colouring what is quite a normal occurrence in India but if any picture could portray Mother India showering blessings on her son then it is this: the middle-aged lady who almost literally ‘eats, lives and drinks’ East Bengal and lives her life off football (but not in the way that most would prefer) blessing an Indian son out to conquer the world as it seems.

Perhaps she doesn’t exactly comprehend the magnanimity of Sunil’s adventure in Coventry. Perhaps for her, Sunil is traveling to play in a foreign land and after some time (read some years) he would return to grace the shirt of her beloved East Bengal again. Perhaps she doesn’t even know what or where England is. And perhaps she doesn’t realize that Sunil’s success in the Coventry trials would actually hurt East Bengal (since the Kolkata giants would lose a very crucial player).

She is naive, innocent, untainted by the evil that knowledge brings. But if she could really realize what Sunil’s quest in England actually implies, she would know that this is big. Very, very big. Huge, actually.

When ran the exclusive about the Indian international striker going for trials at Championship side Coventry City this week, there was a considerable degree of pleasant surprise and optimism. After all, it is not everyday that an Indian footballer is asked for a trial in England and that too for a club that is in a division immediately below the much-cherished Premier League.

Sunil’s call to play in the Championship for a side coached by the former Fulham and Real Sociedad boss Chris Coleman ought to be perceived as a new dawn for Indian football although since the late 1990s and especially since the turn of this century football in India has been gaining popularity.

But it has mostly been European football, especially the Premier League that has been capturing the Indian football market. While Indians have grown used to watching and discussing the European game, most are not keen to take up football as a profession. Perhaps it is because Indian football is not very lucrative or perhaps because no one sincerely believes that he can be a new Bhaichung Bhutia but the bottom line is that most followers of football in India are passive and not active followers.

They would unconditionally follow the Manchester Uniteds or the Real Madrids, fight over ‘their clubs’ in bars and colleges, call themselves "Gunners for Life’ or ‘Cules’ but when it comes to taking up the sport as a profession, they would shrink their tails between their legs and scamper to the safe zone of an Engineering or an MBA degree.

Sunil’s venture to England should certainly exhibit that dreams can be realized. Maybe when he was a kid, he had impossibly imagined himself playing in Europe but now that he is on the verge of fulfilling that ambition, maybe the others could emulate him.

But perhaps more importantly his venture to England would inform the more established footballing world that an Indian can play football and be good at it too. India’s rise as a global superpower has opened its economy and culture, mostly for the better, and while cricket is still the main sport, the sporting culture is changing, although gradually.

Should Sunil Chhetri impress at the trials at Coventry he would be given a contract and play for the Championship side. This in turn would demonstrate to other clubs in England and elsewhere that talent in India is present, that even though India is still a cricket dominated society, football is massive here.

These clubs, forever in the hunt for ‘new and upcoming talent’ would be cajoled to tap into the Indian footballing market and search for a new Sunil Chhetri. India has almost an obsession with foreigners and foreign investment and the country would welcome with open arms the clubs and organizations interested in pulling out budding Indian footballers to foreign shores. Sunil’s success in his trials would put India on the footballing map.

January’s FIFA rankings put the Indian national football team at 142nd, giving an outsider the idea that football here in India is improving at a snail’s pace. But if Sunil is able to earn a contract at Coventry, it would indeed dismiss that idea.

Sunil’s trial starts this week and lasts for seven days. What lies ahead is enveloped in the impenetrable blanket of time. No one knows how exactly it is going to pan out for Sunil and all India can do is hope for this Golden Boy of Indian football to shine in England.

Go Sunil go! Make your nation proud. A billion people are looking at you with desperate eagerness and optimism.

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The Indian Dream: Can Sunil’s Coventry Adventure Inspire India? Reviewed by admin Ucop on 7:29 PM Rating: 5

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