Vinay Menon had never really watched a football match — live or on television — till he found himself at the Stamford Bridge stadium in 2009, watching Chelsea play.
He did not need tickets: Because this 46-year-old from India is the football team’s wellness consultant. Now, during season, he spends his days training with the team, and watching their multiple matches.
“Cherai to Chelsea” is how he likes to describe his story.
Incidentally, that is also the name of the biography his wife, Flomny Menon, wrote, which was published last year. “Cherai is a small village near Kochi in Kerala. Whenever I go back, I sit by the door, drink chai and look at the backwaters. That feeling of being home is wonderful,” says Vinay over a call from London.
Seated on his balcony, overlooking the Thames, he narrates his story. “The only footballer I knew of was Diego Maradona,” he laughs. So, 12 years ago, when he was introduced to the team playing for Chelsea, he was not star struck despite big names like Didier Drogba being in the locker room.
Vinay was working in Dubai with the Jumeirah Group, when he received an offer to join Roman Abrahamovich, owner of the the Chelsea football team, as his personal coach in London. Eventually, Vinay took on his new role with the team, also known as The Blues.
While he has a lot of inspiring stories from his interaction with the players, he is not at liberty to disclose them as part of a non disclosure agreement. “We are one family. I am so thankful for this opportunity and for the trust that has been put in me,” he says. Which is why, he wants more people to take the profession of a physical educator seriously.
The journey to Chelsea
Though Vinay wanted to be a police officer, when he completed his Bachelor’s, he did not find an opening in the police force. So, he went on to pursue a Master’s in Philosophy in Physical Education at the Pondicherry University. “I also began training street children in physical education for free,” he adds.
Following that he did a course in Yoga Science from Kaivalydhan Yoga Institute in Pune. “I worked in Mumbai for a while and then taught at the Pondicherry University, before working as a senior wellness practitioner at Ananda in the Himalayas. There, not only did he discover the world of luxury wellness, but also met the most important person in his life: his wife.
They moved to Dubai next. “I started something called full moon yoga. I often felt like Madonna. I would be dressed in a white kurta , standing on a stage at the five star resort and instructing my clients,” he laughs.
His current lifestyle in London is not something Vinay had ever planned or imagined. “My cousins worked in Mumbai or abroad and when they visited Cherai they spoke in English. I only spoke in Malayalam,” he says. But he always wanted to do something that brought recognition to his village, his State. “I always tried to walk a different path.”
In his current role, Vinay is often a sounding board for Chelsea players. As he is “not a fan”, he can detach and critically evaluate the footballers, no matter how big a star they are. But back in Kerala, he is plain old Vinu (as he is fondly called), who walks around in chappals . “It is important to detach, especially for mental wellbeing,” says Vinay. This is his advice for the team. “If you want to perform at the peak, you have to have equilibrium.”
It would then be fair to credit him for playing his part in Chelsea’s recent win at UEFA Champions League, where he admits he was overwhelmed. “I created ARFA. It stands for Awareness. Recovery. Focus. Achievement. I use this process to train players,” he says.
He adds that fun is important to achieve best results. “If you are not enjoying something, you cannot be an elite performer.”
It has been 23 years in the wellness industry for Vinay. Over the years he has noticed that physical education in India is poor, with more focus given on education. “We need to work in that area. The PE department is not paid well. Once you finish a PE course, the job opportunities are limited. If the nation does not have a healthy population, can you imagine what will happen?” he asks.
Especially now, with the current situation, and with over dependence on gadgets and addictions of various kinds, he stresses on mental and physical wellbeing.
“Take five to seven minutes every day, sit in a comfortable position and ask yourself a few questions: Where am I sitting? How am I feeling? Be aware of your breath. Tell yourself positive affirmations like I am breathing fine. I am looking good. I am feeling good,” he says. “Really connect with yourself.”