Ajith Kumar is a satisfied man, content with where he is — at the training centre of Inspire Institute of Sports in Bellary, playing football with the likes of Sunil Chhetri, Gupreet Singh Sandhu among others, having joined Indian Super League (ISL) outfit Bengaluru FC in the summer.
“Happy, overwhelming, excited are words that do not fully explain the way I feel about joining Bengaluru FC,” the youngster tells The Bridge.
“I feel like I am in the best possible place professionally. I will be playing along with a few legends who I grew up admiring! I want to give my best every time I get an opportunity.”
And it’s easy to believe him.
After coming through as a raw talent in the local leagues in Chennai and establishing himself at I-League club Chennai City FC, Ajith’s words have a sense of self-confidence and self-belief, it’s almost as if he already knows what’s written in his destiny.
The JSW-owned club had first shown interest in the versatile left back last year, when Chennai City won the I-League title under Akbar Nawas and Ajith featured in every match of the campaign. However, the first time the youngster heard of the offer from Bengaluru FC, he was surprised, so much so, that he almost thought it was a prank call.
“The first time I heard about the offer (from Bengaluru FC) I laughed and thought it was a prank someone was playing on me,” Ajith recalls with a grin. “It happened during our I-League title victory celebrations. People enquired about my next move and congratulated me for the offers on hand but I laughed it all off.
“I found out it was true only after Rohit Ramesh sir (Chennai City FC owner) spoke to me about it. But I was still an amateur then. Thought it was too early to take up the offer. Bengaluru FC is a big club and I felt not ready. I wanted to get more exposure before signing for them. And then I was again approached a year later.”
But weren’t other ISL club(s) interested in signing Ajith in this transfer window? “Yes, it’s true. I had offers from a few other clubs as well. But I've always admired Bengaluru FC as a fan – right from the professionalism around the club to its infrastructure. Bengaluru FC was at the top of my list,” the 23-year-old asserts before going on to add, “And why would someone miss a chance to play with our Indian legends (like Chhetri, Gurpreet, etc.)?”
“There's still the part of me that considers this move to be a prank and I feel like I'm just playing along! Almost like a good happy dream.”
While it may seem like a dream now, a few years back, Ajith’s life wasn’t so smooth sailing. Growing up, his parents expected him to bag a much-coveted government job by playing football, just like Ajith’s uncle had done to set a precedent. However, young Ajith had other plans.
Having been a regular feature in the CFA Senior Division League, Ajith was asked by one of his coaches to attend Chennai City’s trials. He went and easily impressed, soon the club offered him a contract. However, when he was signing his first pro contract, he decided to keep it a secret at home until the very last moment.
Not just that, there were other difficult moments through his journey. He gave the trials for Chennai City through injury, withstanding almost unbearable pain and yet made it through. How hard has it been for Ajith?
Ajith Kumar during his time at Chennai City FC (Source: AIFF)
“It's been hard but also not a surprise. I am sure many footballers would have faced this at some point in their careers. Beating that hurdle or being beaten by it, that is where the difference lies. I took all the negative energy and used it as a driving force for me to make it in the sport. To achieve something people say you can't and proving them wrong, that motivated me,” he says.
“I don't consider myself as an established player yet. I am far from it. But I would say that I am on the right path towards it. And I will always give it my all, not just for myself and the team but also for the kids back from my place, who carry the same dream as me.”
At Bengaluru FC, fans will expect Ajith to fill in the huge gap left in defence by Nishu Kumar’s departure in the summer. Carles Cuadrat will be hoping that he can deliver at left back and, if required, push up the pitch and control the game from midfield and the player is aware of that. Bengaluru’s domestic players have started training in Bellary and Ajith is getting acclimatised playing alongside his new teammates.
“Yes, I have an idea about the role I will play at Bengaluru FC. That said, I am ready to do anything and everything our coach wants and the team demands. I have had good interactions with the coaches and teammates so far. It is still early in the pre-season and I am taking it one day at a time,” he concedes. “Bengaluru FC has been in the title race every season since it was formed. As a team, the title will be our first target.”
And what about personal goals? Where does he see himself in five years?
“Personally, I want to play as many matches as possible and make a good contribution in the club’s quest to win back the title. Honestly, in the next five years I hope to wear the Indian jersey. But I think I am still an ‘incomplete’ player and I want to continue learning. I want to get better with each passing day. And off the pitch, I simply want to be a better human,” Ajith signs off.
Also read: What is going on at your club — Bengaluru FC