Kick-off to glory

Twenty-five-year-old ‘Manchester United’ fan Faraz Abdul Azeez had just one dream: he wanted to watch his favourite club Manchester United in action at Old Trafford, Manchester. “I grew up watching legends such as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. Ever since I was a young boy, I have dreamt of watching them play,” says Azeez.

But life had better plans for him. “Instead, I got to play with Ryan Giggs in the Premier Futsal tournament. It was unbelievable,” says Azeez, who played for Chennai’s Premier Futsal team after getting through via ‘Launch Pad’, a talent hunt.

Having spent much of his childhood in football-crazy Saudi Arabia, Azeez grew up playing football. “Every kid there plays the sport. That’s how I got interested. And of course, I am a huge Manchester United fan, so much of my weekends were spent before the television set.”

After coming back to India, Azeez continued to play football in school and college. “I was the captain of my school team (DAV Gopalapuram) and also managed to get into a senior division football league team while in college. Though I couldn’t cement my place in the team, I gained invaluable experience,” he says.

Despite working for a multi-national bank, a career in football was always at the back of his head. “My family understood my passion and was supportive. I even quit my job and got into the family business to give myself more time to pursue the sport. At one point, they (family) even told me to go for trials to Europe. However, with the mushrooming futsal arenas in Chennai, I started playing 5-a-side football regularly, and I knew this is the kind of football I wanted to play. I wanted to make a name for myself here.”



When Azeez learnt that the Premier Futsal tournament was organising trials to pick players for a match, in which big names such as Ronaldinho (former Barcelona player), Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes (both Manchester United), Falcao (Brazilian Futsal player), Michel Salgado (former Real Madrid player) and Hernan Crespo (former AC Milan and Chelsea) were playing, he knew that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It wasn’t easy. He was competing with about 1,500 players from all over India, who he thought were better suited for futsal, where fancy foot-skills are generally deemed necessary.

“I never thought I was going to be selected. There were really skilful players who could dazzle the coaches. But, somehow, the coaches selected me for being a team player, and being calm on the ball. In fact, many of those skilled players didn’t get through,” he says.

By the end of the final five-day camp, he was among the last 36 players selected. “When I got a call, I thought my friends were playing a prank. It took me a while to process the whole thing. We were then slotted in the six teams accordingly,” says Azeez. Was the transition from 11-a-side football to a five-a-side game tough? “People think that five-a-side is not as tactical as the 11-a-side game. But it is as tough, and you don’t get to take a breather. You are constantly either attacking or defending, running up and down the court. It is tougher physically.”

He recalls his first training session with the big names. “It was sloppy. But Falcao and other foreign players made us feel comfortable. Even if we made a miss-pass, they would motivate us. It was an incredible experience to learn from the very best.”

Asked to pick two moments from the whole tournament that would stay with him forever, Azeez said that walking in and out of the dressing room with Ryan Giggs was perhaps his most memorable moment. “The first time, I tried to tackle Giggs in a game against Mumbai, he dribbled the ball between my legs. Though I wasn’t successful, the memory will stay with me forever,” he says sheepishly and adds, “The second one would be when I turned Michel Salgado and created an opportunity for Falcao to score. I had my back to our goal, with Salgado charging behind me. I turned him and passed it to Falcao, who scored eventually.”

Does he believe he can make a career as a futsal player? “Yes,” he says. “If I get to play in the tournament again this year, it would be a boost for my career, and I would surely like to make a career out of it.”

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Printable version | May 20, 2022 8:09:04 am |