Comforting tale of footballing success for family ravaged by Cyclone Ockhi

Belonging to fishermen community, Rajesh Soosainayagam's family suffered losses to the tune of Rs. 15 lakh because of the cyclone.

Rajesh Soosainayagam won the best player award in the recently concluded South Zone Santosh Trophy qualifiers in Bengaluru.

Two months ago, Cyclone Ockhi left a trail of devastation in the fishing hamlet of Poozhiyoor bordering Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Soosainayagam’s family was one of the worst hit by the natural calamity and they suffered a loss of Rs. 15 lakh as their fishing boat and nets got damaged in the cyclone.

After a period of despondency, the 53-year-old Soosainayagam can now afford a smile as his youngest son Rajesh Soosainayagam won the best player award in the recently concluded South Zone Santosh Trophy qualifiers in Bengaluru.

"My father and three brothers are fishermen. But my father never wanted me to become a fisherman and sent me to school to study. But I turned out to be an average student and I was more interested in football. But my father and brothers encouraged me and this award means a lot to them. This award is also special to me,’’ said the 25-year-old Railway employee.

Rajesh won a Honda Navi scooter for his exploits in the Santosh Trophy. "Though I own a bullet, this one will be dear to me as it my first real award as a footballer,'' he said.

Karnataka rode on Rajesh’s four goals to qualify for the main phase of the Santosh Trophy. When Railways decided not to take part in this season's Santosh Trophy qualifiers, Karnataka coach P. Muralidharan was quick to rope in the services of Rajesh and the striker didn’t disappoint the coach. 

Rajesh has been a prolific scorer in Santosh Trophy, notching up 23 goals in the championship ever since making his debut for Karnataka in the 2012 season. Last year, while playing for Railways, Rajesh scored eight goals which included a hat-trick against Bihar. In 2013 season, Rajesh struck a purple patch scoring eight goals in the national championship and helped Karnataka reach the quarterfinals.

Rajesh believes in destiny and is grateful to three people — Cleofas Alex, his first coach, local politician John Bosco and Shaji Pozhiyoor — for shaping his career. When Vision India project was launched in Pozhiyoor, it stoked his interest in football and he was one of the early trainees of the project. 

Rajesh honed his skills under Celofas Alex who was the coach of the Vision India project. But his career as a footballer took off when he got selected to the plus two sports hostel in Thiruvananthapuram. Though he was initially rejected after doing well in the trials, it was John Bosco who fought for him and helped him get in. 

After finishing his plus two course, Rajesh and four other players from his football club SMRC travelled to Bengaluru to take part in the trials for BEML which was taking part in the second division I-League in 2011. He was the only one who was selected to the BEML squad and that opened new avenues for him as a footballer. He joined Railways and became an integral part of the team helping the side to reach the finals in 2014 Santosh Trophy.

Rajesh now dreams of playing in the I-League, ISL and for India. "My immediate aim is to play in the I-League. Some clubs in the past had approached me but I was keen to have a permanent job so I took the offer from Railways. But now, I think playing for an I-League side is the natural progression for me. I want to do well and then will think of playing in the ISL. My ultimate dream is to play for India,’’ said Rajesh who idolises Sunil Chhetri and Lionel Messi.

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