Uttam Rai is another striker from Sikkim, and like someone else he was also discovered at the Subroto Cup. The comparison will be obvious but there are some two decades between that Uttam needs to run and survive if he is to be mentioned in the same breath as Sikkim’s favourite son, Baichung Bhutia.
Uttam smiles. “I have met him. He is a Great Player.”
Team India’s striker in the AFC U-16 Qualifiers in Tashkent — the boy who scored five in India’s match against Krygyzstan, like any other guy of his age dreams of playing abroad. “If I get a chance, I want to play outside my country,” he quips. The very next moment, his wall-pass will catch you a bit on the wrong foot. “But how will I get a chance? There are not many Agents in India and Agents who are based elsewhere do not come to India to watch us play?” he stares at me.
At the IMG Academy in Florida, Uttam was declared the ‘Player of the Year,’ among all categories earlier this year. Coach Bitan Singh, who was based in Florida along with Uttam and others informs, “He scored more than 100 goals in the last Calendar Year. His mastery is never in doubt.”
You turn to Uttam. He’s Praying at the moment – a long Prayer prior to having his lunch. The others in the table wait for him. And when they discover, they are being watched, they too start praying – but only till Uttam has finished.
“My mother taught me to Pray to the Almighty. I Thank Him for the Food that he is providing me. There are so many poor people who don’t get to eat two meals in a day,” Uttam confesses.
His team-mates wait for a chance to tease him. “No 9 from India – very Good Player,” and it goes on in chorus. The story goes that Players from FK Lokomotiv’s first team congratulated the Indian contingent after their 7-0 win against Krygyzstan and had uttered the same line. Uttam’s team-mates have been carrying on from there.
‘You wear No. 9 at the moment. But don’t you dream of wearing the No. 10 someday?’ I enquire.
“Jersey numbers don’t matter as long as I score goals; as long as Daniel (Lalhlimpuia) scores goals (Daniel wears the No. 10); as long as we score goals. Give me any Jersey Number – I am comfortable. Numbers don’t create a player; goals create a player,” the Fernando Torres fan completes at one breath. His maturity is bound to strike you.
Uttam has started to juggle the ball by then. And he went on and on, that too seated on the ground. And as I look in amazement, his team-mates begin in chorus – ‘No. 9 from India – very good player.’ Uttam stops; gets up and runs after them – and the chase goes on.
Uttam will have to run for long – after all he is chasing a Big Name in Indian Football. Baichung will be the happiest if Uttam lasts the distance.
(AIFF Press Release / Written by Nilanjan Datta)