“I want to play in the UEFA Champions League some day!”
Only a few years ago, featuring in the European football’s biggest stage would have seemed quite a distant dream for Shubho Paul.
However, when the 17-year-old - who resides in one of the many dingy bylanes of Salkia in Howrah - mouths the same words now, it may be said, he has taken a step closer towards the holy grail.
Earlier this week, Bundesliga champion Bayern Munich released its U-19 World Squad, featuring 15 players from across the globe, hand-picked by club legend and World Cup winner Klaus Augenthaler from more than 1,200 applications received from across 64 countries.
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These players, who will soon board a flight to the Bavarian capital, have the opportunity to not only attend an extensive training programme but also pocket a professional contract with the club. Shubho happens to be one of them.
“I am very happy and honestly, can’t imagine I have made the cut. All of it still feels like a dream. I didn’t even know Anuj (Gupta) sir had applied on my behalf. It was a pleasant surprise,” says Shubho, who was on Friday congratulated by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Twitter .
Anuj, co-owner of I-League club Sudeva Delhi FC, where Shubho dons the captain’s armband, said he always believed in the striker’s potential since he joined the academy in 2016.
“The news has definitely given us the belief that what we thought about him from the start isn’t wrong. The best thing about him is the way he was in 2016 and the way he is now, there is hardly any difference. Him staying grounded, according to me, is the key to his progress,” he said.
Since becoming an AIFF-registered player, Shubho has scored 87 goals in 41 matches across all age groups. However, he wasn’t always the mean scoring-machine he is today.
“When I was six, I didn’t play football. I hardly knew anything about the sport. But my elder brother Raju was a very good footballer back then. I used to watch him play. Later, he used to take me to watch local games,” Shubho, who once scored 58 goals in 12 matches in the U-13 I-League, says.
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On one such trip, Shubho came across Kolkata football legend Chima Okorie. The Nigerian was then conducting trials at a local playground. “I started going there every day. A week later, Chima sir came up to me and asked why I only watched and never stepped onto the pitch. I said I wanted to but was afraid I would be shooed away.
“He asked me to come to the ground the very next day for a game. Then I didn’t have spikes or a jersey, so I turned up to play barefooted in a regular t-shirt. We were not in a very good financial place. But somehow, I managed to score a few goals and sir gifted me new shoes and kits,” says Shubho, whose father still works at a textile mill.
Raju also gave up on his dreams of becoming a pro later to take up a job at the Howrah Municipal Corporation.
“ Dada ’s sacrifice has been the biggest in my journey, thus far. He gave up what he loved to allow me to progress. I want to make my family proud by playing for the senior Bayern Munich side one day,” he says.
The FC Bayern World Squad will first travel to Mexico on June 28 to play against top U-19 teams in a pre-season extending for 13 days. The side will then head to Munich, where it will be pitted against a number of Bundesliga youth teams before it takes on the Bayern U-19 squad.
The project will also be converted into a six-part docu-series, which may further open up a window of exciting possibilities. Anuj, who will accompany Shubho on this tour, is hopeful.
“In two years, I can see him play as a professional in Europe. And when I say professional, I mean the top two divisions. In five years, he may debut in either the Bundesliga or La Liga,” he says.
Shubho, who idolises Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo and hopes to meet Robert Lewandowski very soon, doesn’t want to let Anuj down either. “I want to believe I can. The Sudeva management trusts me. If they are supporting me this much, I shouldn’t make them regret their call,” he signs off.