BY SUDHAKAR SHANBHAG | NT
PANAJI: Rohan Ricketts, Indian football’s first major English signing for I-League champions Dempo Sports Club, has already played three games in Goa (one in I-League & two in GPL) and dreams of winning the league in his debut season for the Indian giants.
The Premier League player who started his professional career with Arsenal in the FA Youth Cup back in 2000, has already confessed about his desire to be part of the growth of Indian football, and had therefore made up his mind to be in Goa and play for Dempo – India’s champion club.
Being the first English player to sign on the dotted line for an Indian I-League club in Dempo, Ricketts does feel proud to be part of the Dempo set-up, especially because of his Indian descent in the family. He even got his first name Rohan because of cricketer Rohan Kanhai, a West Indian cricketer of Indo-Guyanese descent – thanks to Ricketts’ West Indian origins, as his parents hail from Kingston-Jamaica.
Settled in England, Ricketts is relishing Goa, which he calls a “special place” and frankly admits he never expected to be in Goa before he turned 30, which he would on December 22 later this year.
“I never knew I would be joining Dempo and playing in Goa before I would even turn 30. So when the opportunity popped up, I welcomed it and accepted it. I wanted to be a part of the growth of Indian football and therefore was prepared to be here,” Ricketts told The Navhind Times in a tête-à-tête, Wednesday. He reminds that it was through a player named Allan who played for East Bengal in India, that he got to know about opportunities in India, but was always wary of the adaptability factor. Ricketts said he was made aware of the hot Indian conditions that would confront him in the sub-continent but he did weigh his options before going the Dempo way. “I knew I needed to make that adjustment.”
“When I came for a week’s trial in Goa in late August, I clinched the contract and knew that this was going to be a completely different place as compared to the rest of India and since I was in England before I was undecided while weighing my options,” said Ricketts, who made headlines as a teenager when he won the FA Youth Cup in 2000 & 2001 for Premier League giants Arsenal.
Ricketts is part of history in English football. In 2002, after making his Arsenal debut against Manchester United in the League Cup, Ricketts joined Tottenham Hotspur, becoming only the 4th ever player to make the switch between the north London rivals.
“When you are a kid you only think about playing football solely. And, when you grow older, you start thinking about the family and you look at things differently and are concerned more about the whole package, which makes more sense to me,” Ricketts added, refusing to be tagged in the striker bracket simply because he played as a midfielder all his life. “I was always a midfielder, a central midfielder. With Dempos I just want to play good football and win as many matches for my new club,” the former Toronto FC player said, emphasising that he never was a “goal-scorer” but always a “goal-creator”. “At Dempo I need to ensure that I keep playing better and if I score, it’ll be great. All I want is for Dempo to win the I-League. So far, I have played in three games, two Goa League and one I-League match and Dempos have collected 9 points, which is all the more satisfying to me,” exclaimed Ricketts on the eve of Dempo’s second I-League game against Sporting Clube De Goa.
When asked whether he believed that India was the right place for a player of his calibre, who played for EPL teams, to ply his trade in Indian league, Ricketts said: “Not at all. Everyone felt shocked that I am here in India. There are so many players in world football today who are in places where they should not have been. But it’s fine here.”
Ricketts, however, was candid in admitting that in India he felt that there was less pressure on him while playing than in England. “I have pressure because I have a name. Back home in England, you are playing at a different level and there’s so much pressure there that on the weekend you practically do not have the feet to move,” he chuckles, but has plans to contribute to Indian football in his own little way, despite the fact that he is contracted to play for Dempo till the end of May 2013.
“I don’t know…it’s only been three weeks in Goa. I am definitely looking forward to making an impact both on and off the pitch,” Ricketts summarised, but was quick to add that he was equally interested in bringing more kudos to the club, to the I-League, in terms of exposure.
Ricketts claimed that he would one day want the I-League to be watched live in England, which is home to a huge Asian base and comprises a large Indian populace in places such as Birmingham, Nottingham, East London, West Ham and other pockets.
“Indians are all over the place and it would be but natural that the football loving Indians based in England followed their Indian stars in I-League,” said Ricketts, disclosing that his experience in media and with TV back home would come in handy in promoting I-League in England. “I have spoken to a broadcaster who wants to buy the I-League rights in England. The network with whom I spoke to is Sports Tonight Live and they are interested in televising I-League in England,” the midfielder maintained. Sports Tonight Live is Britain’s newest sports TV station that brings 4 hours of topical sporting debate 7 nights a week. “They have got the rights to the Poland League and I have worked with them,” Ricketts disclosed.
“When I leave India may be after a year or thereafter, I want to bridge the gap and help Indian football connect with the world. This is simply because I have a name in English football and want to make effective use of my status to help Indian football get that extra push.
“What use would it be if the No 1 sport in the world is not being allowed to grow in a country like India which has a population in excess of 1 billion and the potential to grow big,” Ricketts sought to know, highlighting that he would even intend to pass on what he learnt at Arsenal to kids at Goan schools through a grassroots initiative in the near future.
“I can influence the kids at the grassroots level and would love to visit schools in Goa and interact with the kids and play with them. Influence them and teach them football and pass on the knowledge I acquired at Arsenal. It will be the same as being coached by Arsenal,” he summed up.