The coronavirus pandemic caused the world to come to a standstill, and football, like everything else, was put on hold. The I-League, 2nd Division I-League and the youth leagues (U13, U15) were all brought to a sudden halt, suspended indefinitely. While the remaining matches of the top-tier had to be shelved with Mohun Bagan declared as the champions, in the second division league, even the preliminary rounds could not be concluded.
Kerala Blasters who were competing from Group C could play seven matches in the tournament. And with the lockdown going on, players had to return to their base. The new-signing for the club, Zayed Bin Waleed made his debut for the side and fulfilled his dream for playing in India.
The Dubai-based, Calicut-born midfielder joined the Blasters in May 2019 from the Dubai-based du LaLiga High Performance Centre U-18 team. The du LaLiga High Performance Centre is a global initiative by Spain’s LaLiga enabling the youth across the UAE to train yearlong to become future national, regional and international pro-footballers.
“My first season with Kerala Blasters has been good and positive. I got to learn quite a lot. It was a professional level league so the competition I faced gave me pretty good exposure,” quips Zayed in a conversation with The Bridge.
With the lockdown being imposed, Zayed is staying within the confines of the Jain University campus in Bengaluru and has kept himself involved in light training inside the campus. “I have been doing my exercises in the evening inside my room. However, it is getting difficult as I cannot indulge in running and playing occasional badminton,” says the 18-year-old.
Zayed’s father took him to the Manchester United Academy in the UAE. From there, he joined the Manchester City academy and was called up to their developmental squad. Later, he joined the Al Ethihad Sports Academy. Talking about the difference in playing for UAE and India, Zayed said, ” In UAE, I was playing with a diverse set of people. Footballers from all over the world come to play there as a result I got interact with many and received plenty of takeaways from them.”
Playing in India and particularly the home state was a rewarding experience for Zayed. He particularly shares his experience of meeting with Sahal Abdul Samad who also was a part of the Al Ethihad Sports Academy. “I enjoyed a lot in the season. I was a newcomer in the team and I tried hard to keep up to the level. The Kerala group is fun. I loved travelling across the country. I got know my teammates. I really look up to Sahal, we met earlier in UAE and this time he gave inputs to meet on how to level up my game,” says Zayed.
The youngster’s family has been a big pillar of support through his playing days and helped him pursue his passion. “It was my father who has been the guiding force behind me. Fortunately, he took my passion seriously and admitted me to the academies. My family has moved to India after staying in UAE. Without them, I wouldn’t have reached this position.”
Zayed had attended trials for the India U-17 team before the U-17 FIFA World Cup when they held it in the UAE, However, he missed out as he was born on April 16, 2002, and was deemed too young. Once the lockdown lifts up, he plans to pursue his future goals of playing for the Indian Arrows, which is the U-19 Indian team.