Football is a game of passion with several stories on and off-the field that have seen great heights. One of the most exciting things about football is seeing young players trying to make a name for themselves. These players may not claim to be the best young players of the next generation. However, they are exceptional and have unlimited potential.
Suhail, Muheet, Danish and Aakif are few among those promising young players who are aiming big in this field.
Suhail Ahmed Bhat's journey with football started just four years ago. The 15-year-old boy from Srinagar is currently playing for the India U-16 football team.
He has been playing football since he was 11 years old and got interested in it because of his father.
“My father is my role model, and he too was passionate about football. He was crazy after this game, and he used to play in the locality with his friends. He had a dream to play for the best clubs in Kashmir and abroad but unfortunately, he could not fulfil his dream due to some constraints,” Suhail said.
In 2019, Suhail joined India Under-16 football team after showing his consistent performance in the Sports Council Football Academy (SCFA) Kashmir.
“I was called for U-16 trials by India where I was able to impress the selectors with my outstanding performance and ultimately got selected for it,” he said.
Suhail has played 3 international matches for India.“In 2020, I played two International matches against UAE and one against Sharjah FC in which I scored 2 goals. It was the happiest moment of my life when I scored my first international goal against my counterpart UAE national team in Dubai,” he said.
Suhail believes football is a challenging game that requires immense concentration and attention to every detail.
He said, “Throughout my career, I faced plenty of setbacks but always learned from those situations. During my childhood, I had no football to play with, so I used to make football from waste paper. Sometimes, I was unable to reach the football ground due to the lack of money. I have been through numerous challenges to reach this position.”
Suhail strikes a good balance between his studies and football.
“I usually practice football in my free time and during my holidays. Therefore, it does not impact my studies. I know when to practice and when to study,” he said.
“My goal as a footballer is to represent India in the World Cup and to play in the Indian Super League (ISL).”
The journey has just begun for Suhail, who admires Cristiano Ronaldo. He is preparing himself to play for U-17 World Cup qualifiers.
“I have a long way to go, and my journey has just begun. I need to practice more, and I need to concentrate on my fitness and health.”
He said, “Nothing comes easy, one has to work hard to achieve dreams and aspirations.”
Muheet Shabir Khan (20) from Batamaloo excelled in football since childhood and is currently playing for Kerala Blasters as a goalkeeper.
Muheet’s father was a goalkeeper too and the credit to Muheet’s success goes to his father who had forced him to play football when he was a kid. “I have been playing football since my childhood. My father used to take me to the ground and force me to play and that is how I learnt.”
Though he had a little interest in playing football as a kid, there is a story behind how his interest towards the game developed.
Muheet was fascinated by an incident which happened in one of his father’s matches.
“In that match my father saved a couple of penalties and won the game. People took him on their shoulders and started to do rounds on the ground. That was the moment when I got inspired and I thought maybe one day people will also do the same with me,” Muheet said.
He was playing in the State Football Academy initially and got numerous opportunities there. “They sent me to many trials, even to the National team camp but unfortunately, I wasn’t selected,” he said.
Sajid Yousuf Dar and Mehrajuddin Wadoo have supported Muheet throughout his football journey.
“When Ishfaq Ahmed, the assistant coach of Kerala Blasters saw me playing on the ground and performing well, he took me for the trials of U-18. I played well there, and I was kept in the Kerala Blasters reserve team,” said Muheet.
He said, “While playing for Kerala Blasters reserve team, we won the Kerala League and then I got promoted to the senior team.”
2020 was Muheet’s first year in the senior team. “I am yet to make my debut for the senior team, but I am practising with them,” he said.
He is a part of Kerala Blasters in ISL this year as well.
Gianluigi Donnarumma, an Italian goalkeeper is Muheet’s favourite football player.
Muheet’s journey from a local club to Kerala Blasters FC was not all glittery as he was growing up.
“When I started to play football, I was obese, and my father restricted me from taking junk food. He would stop talking to me whenever I opted for unhealthy snacks,” he said.
He said, “I was physically weak and had zero stamina. Whole day I used to go for a run. People used to tease me as I didn’t know how to run.”
“People think I am playing because of nepotism but ISL is such a big league where one cannot stay because of nepotism as your performance and consistency speaks for your own self,” Muheet said.
Muheet’s dream is to play for the national team. He is currently in Goa with the senior team of Kerala Blasters to play ISL.
He believes there is a lot we can learn from the seniors.
“There is a huge difference between football in Kashmir and outside. The level is too high. There is a lot of potential in Kashmiri players. They just have to be mentally strong to leave their hometown,” he said.
Danish Farooq (25) from Sekidafar Srinagar initially used to play in a local club in Eidgah and after that he was selected for JK Bank Football Academy.
“I played for 2 years in the academy and then I got promoted to JK Bank senior team and I represent them at the state level,” said Danish.
Danish has also played three seasons of I-League with Real Kashmir Football Club.
Danish joined Bengaluru FC last year and has signed a contract of two years with them.
“I recently played three matches with Bengaluru FC in the Maldives for the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) cup,” he said.
Football runs in the family for Danish and has been a part of his life since he was a 4-year-old kid.
“I was 4 years old when I started to play football. My father was also a footballer, I used to accompany him to his practice sessions in Eidgah and that is where it all started,” said Danish.
He said, “I have been following my father’s footsteps and he has been my role model.”
Danish’s father used to play for SRTC and Mohammedan FC in Kolkata.
“When I started to play football, I had a tough time between my studies and my game. My family have had a front row seat for the journey, and they have been there every step of the way, laying a firm foundation for my success,” Danish said.
Danish has always wanted to play for Indian Super League (ISL) and for the national team.
“I play as a midfielder, and it is my first season with Bengaluru FC in ISL. Hopefully, I will do better in future,” he said.
Danish has played with clubs like JK Bank senior team, Real Kashmir, and Bengaluru FC.
He believes there are many talented players in the valley. “I hope more players come from Kashmir and I want to see them play in the top-level tournaments like ISL, I-league. We are talented but lack opportunities,” he said.
Reshi Aakif popularly known as Goal Machine from Anantnag, was in school when he was selected to play in an under-19 national level tournament and since then he never stopped playing.
“I made my mind of making a career in football right after I got selected in a national team,” said Aakif.
Aakif has played one inter-school national, two inter-university nationals, four Santosh trophies, two I-League 2nd division, and one Calcutta league, so far.
“I joined JK Bank FC in 2018 and was previously playing for Lonestar Kashmir FC,” he said.
Cristiano Ronaldo has been Aakif’s favourite footballer as he loves his style of playing.
“His hard work and passion for the game inspires me,” he said.
Ishfaq Ahmed and Mehrajuddin Wadoo are Aakif’s role models from the valley.
“Watching them on TV in my childhood encouraged me a lot as they are the ones who have played international matches.”
Aakif’s struggles are not coming to an end as in Anantnag they don’t have any coaches and academies.
“We lack basic infrastructure in Anantnag. I have to go to Srinagar and play and train there which is not an easy thing to do but if you work hard and have willpower, nothing can stop you from achieving your goals,” Aakif said. He adds, “I have learned football from my seniors and from watching the game on TV.”
His goal is to play for team India or represent India at international level.
“I recently played in a JKFA professional league where 8 teams participated and JK Bank FC won that professional league. I was declared player of the tournament as I scored 8 goals,” he said.
Aakif has also played for Nasheman FC, Kanwal FC, Lonestar Kashmir FC, Mohammedan Sporting Kolkata and JK Bank FC.He plays as a striker and loves scoring goals that is why people call him Goal Machine.
“I am the only Kashmiri boy who scored a hattrick in I-League 2nd division against Pune City FC,” Aakif said.
He said, “Playing football and studying together was very difficult and I don’t think I would have been able to achieve this much without the support of my parents as they have always motivated me to achieve my goals.”