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FIFA U-17 World Cup: Stalin to Lead The Defence From The Front

Sanjeev Stalin, through hard work and desire has made it impossible to replace him from the starting line-up of the India U-17 football team. The boy who wears jersey number 5 for India’s first set of World Cuppers is also more than capable from the dead ball situation.

Abhimanyu Sen | News18 Sports

Updated:October 5, 2017, 10:45 AM IST
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FIFA U-17 World Cup: Stalin to Lead The Defence From The Front
Sanjeev Stalin (AIFF/Twitter)
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New Delhi: The Garden City of India has been the home to many of Indian sports greatest heroes. It is also the first city in the country to have a statue of the legendary Brazilian footballer – Pele, who stands tall in Gowthampura, a football crazy locality just off MG Road.

Some distance away, in Murphy Town, around the early part of the first decade of the new century, a toddler started to learn the basics of football from his father. Stalin Sr, a striker during his playing days was helping his son Sanjeev pick up the basic nuances of the beautiful game.

About fifteen years later, that toddler has very much stayed in touch with his roots and taken the relationship with football to the next level. Sanjeev Stalin, through hard work and desire has made it impossible to replace him from the starting line-up of the India U-17 football team. The boy who wears jersey number 5 for India’s first set of World Cuppers is also more than capable from the dead ball situation.

“Sanjeev started playing football at a very early age. He learnt to kick and pass and run with the ball from me,” says Stalin Sr, who will be present at the JLN in New Delhi on October 6 when India plays the veterans of this tournament USA.

India’s number 5, began his life as a striker and then slowly moved back to midfield before it was decided that his best performances would come from the wings of the back four.

“Sanjeev began playing as a striker and when he was small, in one tournament he was wearing the number 11 jersey, which was my number also,” recalls his father over the phone in broken Hindi. His family will reach the national capital one day before the opening game.

“My father taught me how to play football, and he is very proud of me. But he never lets me rest, he always tells me to keep working harder. He says I have to keep improving every day to be a good player,” Sanjeev said on the sidelines of a strenuous practice session.

The left back who was initially spotted in a local tournament by the famous Jamshid Nassiri, credits his success to his coaches. Just like his captain Amarjit, Stalin began his formal journey at the Chandigarh Football Academy. Under the tutelage of former India captain Harjinder Singh, the boy from Karnataka grew by leaps and bounds.

“Stalin and Amarjit were two players who had immense dedication and the will to work harder every day. They would always look for ways to be a few steps ahead of the opposition, and in most cases they managed,” quips Harjinder, who is no more a part of CFA and has decided to move to the national capital to join hands with Delhi United FC.

A master with at dead ball situations, Stalin faced rejection at the tender age of eight at the Chandigarh Football Academy for being too young. Two years later he found a way back and he never looked back.

“Set piece situations are very important. We can win or lose the match in those few seconds.” Whether he is defending a dead ball situation, or aiming to score from the acutest of angles, like he did in the AFC U-16 Championship against UAE, Stalin will be in the thick of things, and he requests one and all to have faith in his abilities to respond to the situation.

His love and passion for the game was evident well before he shifted base from one end of the country to the other to secure a future in football. Like most youngsters in India, Stalin started playing the game barefoot. “There were occasions when my leg was hurt, but I continued to play and realised what had happened only when I went back home.”

“I have never imagined that I will play any sport other than football. When I was small, I used to play for hours together. I would not return home even if my parents called me for meals. I love football and my father has been my inspiration,” recollects Stalin.

Stalin will be expected to lead the defence from the front at the World Cup, a task that can be quite daunting, but he is far from feeling the pressure. “If we can’t play well because we are nervous, then our preparation has not been good enough.”
“There will be no moment bigger than this for us in our careers and we have to do well. Even playing for a European club will not match the magnitude of a World Cup,” he predicts. “We have to focus on these three group stage games first.”

“Playing in front of our fans will be a big source of motivation for us. We will give it everything and hope to do well irrespective of the opponent,” he vows.

Independent India made her footballing debut at the 1948 Summer Olympics in the United Kingdom. India was knocked out after the first game itself when they lost to France 2-1. Independent India’s first goal in international football was scored by a certain Sarangapani Raman – from Karnataka, a state which has produced quite a few footballers for the national team.

Sanjeev Stalin, who will not get to play any of his World Cup games in Bangalore as it isn’t one of the six venues being used for the tournament, has the chance to become India’s first goal scorer in the main competition, across age groups, male or female.

It could really well reignite the fire for Karnataka football, but for now, it is time for the World Cup
| Edited by: Baidurjo Bhose
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