Sanjeev ready to rock

It will be a dream come true, says Bengaluru youngster

Sanjeev ready to rock

Like any other aspiring footballer, he too dreamt of playing in the World Cup one day. Watching those late-night World Cup games on the giant screen in his locality, little did Sanjeev Stalin knew his dream would come true, in a different way.

“I think every footballer dreams of playing in the World Cup and it was no different with me,” the Bengalurean tells DH over a phone conversation.

“We used to play at the ground near my house and then during the World Cup the matches would be screened live. I have grown up watching that. I have always dreamt of playing for India at that stage. Well, it might not be ‘the World Cup’, but the U-17 World Cup is no less,” he states.

Sanjeev is among the 21 boys who will represent India at the FIFA U-17 World Cup. An integral part of the Luis Norton de Matos-side, Sanjeev’s journey from Murphy Town to Indian team is an inspiring one, with the football-crazy pocket of the city having a tremendous impact on his game.

“The place breathes football,” he says. “It’s just impossible to stay away. There’s no doubt that my time at the Chandigarh Football Academy has helped me a lot in becoming the player I am today, but playing the 5-a-side or the 7-a-side games in Murphy Town taught me a great deal.

“I think because I started playing there my game is better. The basics remain the same, it’s just the field that’s bigger and you have to adjust accordingly. Because I played in a smaller field earlier, my ball control is better and I can get out of the crowd without much trouble.”

It was here that the former East Bengal player Jamshed Nassiri spotted his talent and recommended him to the Chandigarh academy. Moulded into the player he is today by Harjinder Singh, a former India and JCT player, Sanjeev is quick to make a note of that.

“I was raw when I went there (to Chandigarh). I had never played a 11-a-side game before. It was Harjinder sir who helped me get adjusted to the bigger field. It was a little difficult earlier because I had this habit of running everywhere, but then you can’t do that on a bigger field. You need to be in your position,” he explains.

His Chandigarh stint also made him realise his strengths. He might have come in as a striker, but Harjinder soon made him play in the midfield and later was shifted to the wings. And once he was at the AIFF academy, the Bengaluru boy became a full-back.

“You usually tend to graduate from the back, but I went in the reverse order,” he jokes.

“It was Nicolai Adam (the former coach of the India U-17 side) who asked me to play as a full-back. He thought my pace could be handy as a full-back. I track back quickly and that helps in defence. I think that was the reason.”

The 16-year-old is also one of the set-piece specialists in the Indian side. And if his performance at the AFC U-16 Championships is anything to go by, it won’t be a surprise if he is their first choice from dead ball situations. But how did he become a set-piece expert? “It started as a fun exercise in Chandigarh,” says Sanjeev.

“Me and Neeraj (Kumar, India U-16 goalkeeper) would challenge each other. “Chal dekhte hai kaun zyada goal marenga?” (Let’s see who’ll score the maximum goals), and we would take kicks from different angles from outside the (penalty) box. It’s grown from there.”

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