Eyeing a new challenge

N.P. Pradeep was an integral part of Bob Houghton’s Indian side.-RAJEEV BHATT

As someone known to take risks, N. P. Pradeep has signed for the newly constituted club, Dodsal of Mumbai. He and his close friend Mohammed Rafi are the only experienced players for the Mumbai side, which is aiming for a place in the I-League next season. Over to M. R. Praveen Chandran.

Few years ago he quit a comfortable job with State Bank of Travancore to chase his dream. Since then, N. P. Pradeep, 29, has seen the ups and downs of professional football in India. At one time he was the highest paid Indian footballer, a regular with the national team and had the most feared right foot in the country.

Injuries and a drop in form saw him benched for major part of the I-League last season. But as someone known to take risks, Pradeep has signed for the newly constituted club, Dodsal of Mumbai. He and his close friend Mohammed Rafi are the only experienced players for the Mumbai side, which is aiming for a place in the I-League next season.

Playing in Kerala after a fairly long gap, Pradeep proved again that he has not lost any of his ability. He scored some stunning goals for Maharashtra and motivated a bunch of youngsters to reach the semifinals of the Santosh Trophy.

As one of the two players — the other being his team-mate Mohammed Rafi — who had prior experience of playing in the I-League, Pradeep was honest when he put the I-League a notch above the Santosh Trophy.

Had Pradeep said this a decade ago it would have been sacrilegious. Pradeep says the regular schedule of the I-League makes a player tougher.

“You have to be consistent over a period of time to be successful in the league. Coaches can access you better and you have to evolve as a player as constant travelling and playing matches makes you mentally stronger as well. I can easily say that a good season in I-League is a passport to the national team rather than a good performance in the Santosh Trophy,” he said.

“I have no regrets about leaving Kerala. My dream was to play for the top clubs in the country and for the national team. Had I stayed in Kerala I would have struggled to make it big. I realised the truth quite early and was ready to grab the opportunity when it came. Look at Vijayan, Ancheri and for that matter V. P. Sathyan. They all left Kerala to play in Kolkata and had become big stars. My advice to youngsters in Kerala is that they should try to play in the I-League.”

Pradeep, who last played for India in 2011, is itching to wear the national colours again and Santosh Trophy was a good platform for him to hone his competitive skills. He will be one of the key players for the second division side Dodsal. “It is a new club and we have a good team and a great future,” he said.