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ISL 2019 EXCLUSIVE: 'Went against parents and chose football,' says ATK youngster Sumit Rathi

ISL 2019 EXCLUSIVE: Went against parents and chose football, says ATK youngster Sumit Rathi

Prachyaprachetah Sarkar

Published: 27 Nov 2019 9:57 AM GMT

After a long international break, ATK resumed their Indian Super League (ISL) campaign on Sunday with a goalless draw against newcomers Odisha FC. Although the Kolkata-based club could not stamp their authority on the oppositions, it turned out to be a great opportunity for a young defender from Punjab.

Sumit Rathi, 18, made his ISL debut as the second-youngest player to play for ATK ever on Sunday night. Until then, the youngster had been warming the benches and trying to impress the management during training sessions. Finally, ATK head coach Antonio Lopes Habbas gave Rathi a chance to prove his mettle on the biggest stage. Coming on as a replacement for the experienced Anas Edathodika after the half-time break, he was unfazed by the big occasion and made an indelible mark during his 45-minute stay on the pitch. Not once did he look nervous or shaky despite it being his first ISL match.

For Rathi, though, the feeling is yet to sink in. "I am very happy as its always a big thing for a young player like me who is in his teens to get a chance to play in the senior team. I think it’s a great achievement to get a chance to play for a big team like ATK and making a debut in the first league of our country with the same team is a matter of pride for me, my family and my friends. Till now, it has been an amazing experience for me with the senior team,” the central defender, who can also play as a left back, revealed to The Bridge, in an exclusive interaction.

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Since his childhood, Rathi has been driven towards sports, but it was his school’s sports teacher who identified the underlying talent and introduced him to the game of football. “I believe I was born to play, as I have been always passionate about all forms of sports since my childhood and I think it's better to call me a well-rounded sports person.

"My life took the turn towards football when I was in the third standard and met our sports teacher at DAV School. Seeing me excel in other sports he encouraged me to play for the school’s football team but at that time, I didn’t know anything about football. Initially, it was difficult for me to maintain the balance between football and academics but as I was very much driven by the game, I was never tired of playing,” Rathi recalled.

Though football came to him all of a sudden it was not so easy and straightforward for him to continue his journey with the ball as he faced a lot of pressure from the family and also had to deal with harsh luck.

After a few months of playing in the school team, I came to know about the coveted Chandigarh Football Academy (CFA) and from that moment I made it my goal to get into the academy. After six months of hard work and practice, I went for the CFA trial along with thirty other boys from all across the country but unluckily the trials got postponed and I failed to get a chance that year.

The next time when I went for the trials at CFA, my family situation had turned suddenly. My parents told me this was going to be my last chance to make a mark. If I failed, I would have to hang up my boots and divert all my efforts to education.

"The competition at the trials turned tougher as there were fifty guys this time. After three days of trial the result came out and my name was called out. At that moment I was overdriven by emotion as at last I was selected for CFA. I signed a seven-year contract with them and it was more like a testament for me cause from that day I believe that one can achieve anything as long as they believe in themselves,” Rathi revealed.

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Rathi is one of the three players who earned a promotion from the ATK Reserves to the senior set-up this season. How difficult was it to make the transition?

In training, I always try to improve day by day. When I was with the reserves playing in the 2nd Division I-league, I tried to keep myself prepared for the big stage waiting for the moment to come. My then coach always told me that I will get a chance if I keep performing and that kept me focussed on the goal”.

Also read: ISL 2019 EXCLUSIVE: Udanta Singh — Catching up with his pace, BFC’s Asian dream and more

But all credit must go to the management, the reserve team coaches and the support staff. It is because of them, the great facilities they provided at the youth level that helped me to reach this level. Not only the football-wise, at ATK reserves, we all were taught to be good human beings. I think all these little things will be very useful in future. I am very grateful to them for giving me this opportunity," Rathi said.

Besides breaking into the senior side, the youngster has also proved himself vital in the Indian U-19 national team. A part of the squad for the U-17 World Cup, Rathi conceded that the landmark event “gave a huge boost” to his career. Now, of course, Rathi is a regular member of the U-19 Indian team.

"Having played for the different age-group teams for India for the past five years now, in hindsight, I am very happy to have had the courage to make the crucial decision at the age of ten. Football has given me a new perspective in life and this couldn’t have been possible without the unconditional support of my family and my coaches," he signs off.

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