Indian connection

Vikash Dhorasoo is very clear about his love for India. Though he hasn't been here, the French national team player hopes to travel to the country of his forefathers some day. "I will come to India with the idea of helping the sport grow in the country," he says in an exclusive e-mail interview with Amitabha Das Sharma.

He bears a name that many in India would identify with, but plays football with the elite of the world. He is Vikash Dhorasoo — the first player of Indian origin all set to play in the 2006 World Cup. Dhorasoo, who earned fame as an accomplished midfielder playing for different European clubs including AC Milan, has been named a member of Equipe Tricolore — the French national team — for the 2006 World Cup. He is set to play alongside the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry as the former World Cup champion launches its campaign in Germany on June 9.

Dhorasoo spoke about his childhood, his career as a professional football player and his plans exclusively through e-mail when Sportstar contacted him in Paris.

His views, laced with irony and wit, reflect his enigmatic personality. However, he is clear about one thing — his love for India, the land of his forefathers. Dhorasoo's ancestral roots are in Andhra Pradesh. He says he would be coming to India, not as a tourist but with concrete plans for developing the sport in the country.

Dhorasoo's career as a professional is impressive. He is currently with FC Paris Saint-Germain in French Ligue 1. A man of strong tastes and preferences, he fell out occasionally with previous club and national team coaches, which delayed his selection to the French squad.

France's coach Raymond Domenech, however, found in him a worthy midfielder and chose him for the national squad. Dhorasoo, who has represented the French under-21 and under-23 teams, played in the Olympic finals in Atlanta in 1996.

Earning a place in Equipe Tricolore, according to Dhorasoo, is the brightest moment of his career.

Excerpts:

Question: Who inspired you to take up football as a profession?

Answer: Everybody in my family inspired me to take up football. My father and my uncle played club football in Mauritius. In France, we were always watching football on television. I've got pictures of me as a toddler holding a football. The love for the sport runs in the family. It's also the national sport in Mauritius.

At what age did you start playing?

I got into systematic training late when I joined a local club at the age of nine, which is quite late in Europe. Like a lot of kids, I mostly played on the yard in front of my building.

Can you tell us something about your childhood?

Well, there is nothing exceptional. I spent my childhood in the suburbs of the harbour Le Havre, in Normandy. I lived in a poor neighbourhood called Caucriauville, but I can't complain. It's like the childhood of a lot of young French boys — going to the school and playing football in front of our building. I started football in a club rather late. I wasn't an intern at "formation centres" like a lot of my colleagues. I managed to have a regular scholarship, like my brother and my two sisters. Studies were important in my family. In all, I had a regular childhood.

Who helped you in growing up as a world-class footballer?

All the people you meet in your life give you something, whether you like them or not. I met a lot of people — some important and some not so important — but I learnt something from all of them. It's not my style to thank somebody or someone.

How was the path to graduation as a French national team player? Do you think you could have made it to the team a lot earlier?

I had to be in it sooner or later. In the end, I find all the fuss about who's in and who's not in, very insignificant. Most of us are in that state of uncertainty — where we come and then disappear from the team and then make a comeback. It's funny that I came back so late. There were times when I thought I was lost for the national team! My elevation to the national squad was not just Raymond Domenech's choice. It's more about my personality than my performances. And that has prompted him to choose me.

There were reports about you getting involved in disputes with national coaches and team-mates. What actually happened?

You know, I sometimes get involved in disputes with my parents, or my brother and sisters. That's not very important.

How is your life after you got a chance to play for the French national team?

The national team belongs to the French people. It means representing the best of our country. The selection story may be very important to the media. I feel it happened naturally as I was then playing in Paris. All that explains how I came under the spotlight. When I got to play for France first I was surprised because at the time I was leaving for Milan (2004). I was supposed to have faded away from France but I got selected for the French team. That brought me enough popularity. I find all this quite paradoxical.

You are used as a replacement in the slot dominated by a star like Zidane. Do you feel the extra pressure because of that?

Yes, of course, but again, most of the pressure comes from just representing the team. It's a great team, and with it carries greater expectations from the whole country. But it's also a pleasure playing with Zidane.

Do you think the modern system of football has enough scope for creative players like you?

Yes, of course. There's room for everybody. I don't know if I'm a creative player, but there's room for the small ones, the big ones, the Indians...

You are now a senior in club football and have represented many clubs in and out of your country. Which club did you love playing in the most and why?

Well, the club I liked the most was AC Milan, but I didn't play a lot there. It was an incredible club, I would need the whole day to tell you what I was experiencing up there. Even when I finish telling you about the experiences, you would find it difficult believing me. I guess you have to be there to understand it.

What is the toughest challenge you have faced as a footballer?

Probably trying to become a regular in Milan. I had to fight my way and make a place where the likes of Kaka, Pirlo, Gattuso, Seedorf were unquestionable and playing really well.

How do you cope with the physical challenge from the big-sized Europeans or Africans? How important is it to be physically robust to survive in football at the world level?

There are more and more athletes in football. But I'm not really an athlete. So, yes, it's difficult, but it's not impossible. But when I see players like Giuly, Iniesta in FC Barcelona, they're small-sized players. There's only one solution: you have to thread and avoid the big players and not run into them.

What is your idea about India? Have you ever come to India?

I haven't been to India as yet. I know where I come from. My great grand parents come from India, Andhra Pradesh, more precisely. From there they came to work in the sugarcane plantations of Mauritius, nearly as slaves. Some of my family members have already gone to India, to see how our country of origin is. I know I'll go there later with my family as well. But it's a journey that needs preparation and time too.

I don't want to go to India as a tourist. I have a real interest in that country. I know India through its movies, its music, its dances, and its food. That's the India I know.

Do you know any club in India? If any Indian club invites you, would you like to play here?

No, I don't know them. Maybe, I'll come at the end of my career. It would be great fun if I were able to work with the Indians in India.

You will be treated as an icon in the country of your origin. Would you like to come to India and inspire the young generation in taking up the sport?

I believe many Indian people are not very attracted to football. It seems to be ingrained very deep somewhere! Well, there's some work to be done to revive the interest about football among the Indian people. I don't know where they are positioned in the world order right now, but the country can really come up. If I can help in the reconstruction process, I would be glad!

You reportedly have interest in fine arts and literature. Do you love to be called an `intellectual footballer'?

I find that quite ridiculous! It's not very nice for the other footballers. They're not all idiots! And it's not very nice to the intellectuals either. You know, when I arrived in Lyon, I went to the opera because it was the first time I was in a city with an opera. I wanted to see how it was. A journalist saw me there and the next day, there was a story in the press about me being a great opera fan. That was nonsense — it was the first time I had ever been to an opera!

Please tell us about your life outside football.

Just a normal life, taking care of my wife and kids... I'm just a normal guy.