THE BLOG BY CPD FOOTBALL | The World of Indian football and beyond by Chris Punnakkattu Daniel

AIFF Academy boys in awe of Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Chhetri

AIFF Regional Academy boys with Sachin Tendulkar

Once you enter All India Football Federation’s Regional Academy at Father Agnel School in Navi Mumbai, the first thing which will strike you are the posters. Posters, big, colourful and bright, decorate the walls. In reality, however, it’s much more than the colour.

The Baichung Bhutia’s, the Sunil Chhetri’s, the Jeje Lalpekhlua’s, the Rahim Nabi’s who look at you from the Walls are looked upto as icons. Boys want to emulate and better them. But a meeting with the ‘idols’ had never happened.

The opportunity came calling on Tuesday, May 28. On the Ground where the AIFF Navi Mumbai Regional Academy boys have been practicing day in and out, National Team Captain Sunil Chhetri came calling. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar was a bonus. The occasion was the Final of the Tier I of the Coca Cola U-16 National Championship between Meghalaya and Orissa.

The Master Blaster and Chhetri walked to the AIFF Academy boys and smiled. For the boys, it wasn’t just another day. It was a day of disbelief, a memory of teenage life which would be narrated more than a million times the entire life. Pleasantries were exchanged, all posed for a picture which besides being uploaded on their personal FB sites, will obviously be treasured in the Famliy Albums forever.

“We were standing when the crowd went wild. We tried to gauge what was happening. We turned our heads around and found out there was a rush. Amidst that, I discovered Him walking towards us. I have watched the walk so many times on Television. It was Sachin Tendulkar!” Gursimrath Singh from Punjab, the Central Defender at the AIFF Regional Academy, recollects.

“He walked up and met all of us. More than feeling special, the moment stays special. And Sunil Chhetri was there with him too,” Gursimrath adds.

“Chhetri is our role model. He has played in USA, he has played in Portugal and is the Captain of our Country. To see him and Sachin on the ground along with our very own Robert Baan and Scott O’Donell was very encouraging indeed.”

Even after 48 hours, the look on wing-back Situ Basumatary’s eyes stay of disbelief. “Sachin Tendulkar had sent the crowd into a frenzy; mediapersons were after him all throughout. But he talked to me, wished me luck and shook my hand. I felt I was dreaming,” he reflects. “I never ever thought I would meet him personally.”

“I remember how back home in Bodoland, time stops when he plays. But the Hero of the Nation shook my hand,” the teenager in Situ comes out again, even as you see him looking at his palm almost every alternate minute.

You just can’t blame him, he is a teenager after all; and above all, it was Sachin Tendulkar.

“Chase your dreams,” he told us.

But it wasn’t just Tendulkar alone. For Goan midfielder Hayden Fernandes, shaking hands with “childhood hero” Sunil Chhetri stayed the moment of his life. “Sunil Chhetri has always been my Hero. To see him in flesh in front of us was absolutely wonderful. This was by far one of the highlight of my football career,” he utters.

“He spoke to each one of us, put his arm around our shoulders and encouraged us. I could feel the touch,” he smiles.

‘Sachin Tendulkar?’ you enquire.

“I’ve never been a cricket fan but Sachin Tendulkar has been above all. Despite being short in stature, he has an amazing personality. I was looking at him and wondering as to how such a down-to-Earth man can conquer the Cricketing World,” Hayden confesses.

Nishu Kumar, the defender from Uttar Pradesh had more to add. “Sachin was not exceptional in Academics but has been the best in his business. Meeting him made me understand the impact of discipline in a sports person’s life. It was a huge experience,” he says in one breath.

Indeed it was! It was around their age that the Master Blaster despite bringing out the ‘Mother’ in all, burst onto the scene and took on the World. The journey continues even after 24 Years! Acknowledged by all, always keeping away from distractions and controversies, the Master Blaster is perhaps, the best role model for the AIFF Academy Boys.

The day after, the boys jog again on the ground. In between, the heads turn to the spot where they had met Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Chhetri. Inspired by their idols, some years later, they may come back to the spot themselves to inspire the next generation. It stays a cyclic process.

(AIFF Press Release)