The only way to push up a country’s footballing prowess is to improve on the training of its players from the ground up. Over the last few years the need for greater emphasis on amateur football has been identified, and multiple programmes have been launched by I-League clubs and ISL franchises, apart from ‘grassroot festivals’ held at multiple cities. Unlike most other grass-root programmes, Star Sports Young Heroes, the country’s largest student direct contact programme; is not hoping for children to show up on a particular day but reaching out to them by involving their schools in the process. And to make it a more well-rounded effort, there is a scouting programme that will run alongside this tournament.
From 6500 contenders across fifteen cities in India only sixteen boys, have been chosen for further specialised training in Spain, under this programme. 15-year old Akshat Hadkonkar of Goa has the distinction of being the only Goan among the sixteen. The selected boys will be trained by youth coaches of Real Madrid and the Spanish Federation hence improving their skills and putting them closer to their dreams.
Akshat along with three others from the state were initially chosen for the coaching programme and were sent to Kolkata. There under the expertise of Jamshid Nassiri, ex-Iranian footballer and head mentor of Star Sports Young Heroes, the boys were trained and had to compete with youngsters from other states to get to the final sixteen.
“When I was informed that I was selected for the programme in Kolkata, I was excited because being trained by a coach with international experience was something to look forward to,” shares Akshat a standard X student of Don Bosco High School, Panaji who plays in the position of goalkeeper. He adds, “I however was not sure about making it to the final list as at the national level the teams are very good, especially the boys from Shillong.” After rigorous training the teams had to compete against each other in trial matches. “I have played against other states but in Kolkata the number of teams was much more. It was like a mini India with boys from all states. There was fierce competition but there was also a certain camaraderie,” he says.
Akshat is at present back home in Goa, preparing not just for his forthcoming trip to Spain but also for his board examinations. “I am eagerly waiting for my exams to finish so that I can practice more and also be off to Spain which I am so looking forward to,” he says with a smile. Recounting his short but extremely successful football journey he says, “I started training in football when I was ten and before that I used to play with my friends in the village. Football for me was more than just a sport, as I grew up watching my father play in the village team. Seeing the love and recognition that he received and the fun everyone was having while playing football, I knew I too wanted to play and excel at the sport.”
His love for the sport and his desire to become a footballer of repute was so great that he even changed his school. “Knowing that Don Bosco School encourages sports and has good coaches my father decided that it was best that I move from my old school. I have been here since the last six years and my skills have improved under my coaches Saby and Francis. I owe a lot to my school for without this training, encouragement and exposure I would still be playing at the village level.”
Recalling his first major game, he says, “I was twelve years old when I was selected by Sporting Club de Goa. The game was to be held in Kerala and having never travelled on an overnight train journey I was doubly excited. It was definitely a memorable time for me as I travelled without my parents with only my teachers and team mates. I still remember all the fun we had on the train.” The team won the first game 3-0 but lost in the semi-finals.
Akshat has since won many accolades for his team, school and the state. Practicing six days a week, he is very focused and diligent. “For me practice is an important part of my day. My day begins at 5.30 a.m. and practice in school at 6.45 a.m. until 8 a.m. After school, I again play football with my friends in the village. The more I practice the more I get better and maybe one day become like Petr Cech my hero,” he confides.
Besides football, Akshat is fond of fishing. Sundays, he says, is time to meet with friends and sit and chat while fishing. “During the week I am busy with my school, studies, tuitions and football coaching but Sundays I really look forward to chilling with my friends. It is my time to unwind and relax.”
Asked who his favourite Indian footballer is, he replies, “Sunil Chettri at the national level and Laxmikant Kattimani is my favourite Goan player. I look up to these footballers and try to learn from their techniques. I would also like to play for FC Goa and dream of being in the Indian team in the future.”
Akshat’s long term plans include football, football and more football at the national as well as international level!