Football blossoms in the land of Michael Soosairaj

Lijo Francis and Shyjin, selected in a talent hunt to train at the International Academy of AD Alcorcon, are inspired by the success of Michael Soosairaj, their local hero.

Michael Soosairaj (in red, jersey No. 6) plays football in his village alongside his brothers. Photo: Special Arrangement

It’s always heartwarming, the success of a raw, self-taught football talent from a self-sustaining rural football community. The most recent example is that of Michael Soosairaj, who has shone for Jamshedpur FC in the Indian Super League (ISL). He belongs to the village of Eraviputhenthurai, in the Kanyakumari district.

Lijo Francis (19) and Shyjin (19), who have recently been selected from the Chennai leg of the Football Trials ’19 talent hunt for a month’s training at the International Academy of AD Alcorcon, also hail from the same village.

Lijo Francis (second from left) and Shyjin Jose (third from left) alongside officials from the International Academy of AD Alcorcon. Photo: Special Arrangement

They speak of the football culture and the impact, in the village, of Soosairaj’s success.

Craze for football

“Now that Soosai anna has become successful in the ISL, the craze for football has tremendously increased,” says Lijo. “His home is nearby ours. You can say we are neighbours. We’ve grown up training, playing with him,” he adds.

Now that Soosairaj has a busy schedule, “he came for Christmas,” says Lijo. “We all had a great time.”

“We now texted him we have been selected to go to Spain. He has congratulated us!”

According to them, there are two football clubs — rather, communities — in the village — FASC and St. Catherine. Both clubs have a ground each. The players train and play in the grounds and on the seashore. The clubs are sponsored by the village elders who are mostly fisherfolk. For instance, Lijo’s and Shyjin’s fathers are fishermen. Tournaments featuring teams from other places are often organised. “It’s mostly 5s, 6s and 7s football,” says Shyjin.

Soosairaj’s influence

With local hero: Lijo Francis (first from right) with Michael Soosairaj (centre). Photo: Special Arrangement

The youngsters in the village have always looked up to Soosairaj and his brothers — Michael Robin, Michael Jegan and Michael Regin (Chennai City FC).

They’ve been inspirational. And influential — they impart their experience and technical learning to all the aspiring young players in the village. Or rather, the youngsters willingly seek them to learn.

Now that Lijo and Shyjin get better exposure, they will pass on their learning. Otherwise, players learn by themselves. There are no coaches as such. The two were among the nine selected from the Chennai City FC trials in the village but didn’t make it to the final six from the camp in Chennai (to be signed by the club) last year.

“Chennai City FC has played a crucial role in Soosai anna’s success. We aim to play for Chennai City,” says Lijo.