Fazel Atrachali, the feisty left-corner defender from Iran, perhaps has more fans in India than back home in Iran. With his vibrant performances in the Pro Kabaddi League, the tall Iranian defender has taught even few Indians a thing or two about kabaddi.
On Thursday, as Fazel prepared to leave with his new Gujarat Fortunegiants team for their match against Haryana Steelers, he just about had time for an interview. He was just one short of becoming the first foreign player to complete 100 tackle points, and when notified about it, he had no clue. "Really? Seriously?" he asked. When he finally decided to trust our knowledge of his numbers, a big smile broke out on his face. "Interesting," he said.
After a brief chat, Fazel disappeared with his team for the match. The milestone awaited! It took much longer than expected but it came at a crucial time for the Fortunegiants. The big screen at the stadium flashed the news. Fazel almost instantly noticed. But the game was on. The moment another Gujarat player went on a raid, Fazel patted his pal Abozar Mohajermighani on the back and pointed to the big screen. Abozar patted back, and they returned to their positions.
Fazel had a come a long way in PKL, and he had the right to celebrate it, albeit just for few seconds.
In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, the milestone man spoke about his record, his strengths on the court, his swift journey from a newcomer in the second season to being the league's best defender in Season 4 and what importance the game is given back in Iran.
Here are the excerpts:
FP: Fazel you became the first foreign player to score 100 tackle points in Pro Kabaddi League? How does it feel to achieve this feat? Did you ever think you would be able to do it?
Fazel: I’m very happy that I came to this country, this league and completed 100 (tackle) points. This season too, I want to finish as the best defender and win more cash, more prizes. But most important for me is my team. If I only think about my points and myself it will not be good for my team. Maybe I will end up with lot of points, but my team will lose. So firstly it’s about my team, and after that my records.
FP: When you first came to Pro Kabaddi League, how were you as a player and a person? And how have you developed since?
Fazel: I came here in season 2. That time I didn’t know English and I couldn’t even speak Hindi. It was very difficult for me, but the players at U Mumba were very friendly to me. It was important for me. But on the other hand, it was a good time for me because I played with very big players like Anup Kumar. They had a lot of experience. The first thing I learnt there was controlling the game. I learnt about control in kabaddi because of those players.
FP: The teams you played for before, like U Mumba and Patna Pirates, were very experienced teams. You said you learnt a lot playing at those teams. But this Gujarat team is very young, so how does your role change?
Fazel: I played for U Mumba and Patna Pirates. Both these teams had good and experienced players. There I only used to think about myself because the other players were good, experienced players. But this time, I will play with junior players and it’s harder for me, but it’s also good. Almost half of our team is composed of senior players, and the remaining half are juniors. This time firstly, I must think about myself, but also tell other players when to go for a catch and when not to. In other teams it was not like this. I just had to focus on myself and play my game as other players were experienced and knew everything.
FP: Do you get nervous before matches?
Fazel: In season 2, when I was new to the league, I used to feel a bit conscious as so many people used to watch me at once. But now it’s not a problem. I have realised that in kabaddi you can be very good one day, normal the other and very bad sometimes. It’s common in this sport, or any sport for that matter. I always try for the best, but I’m very relaxed. I know what I do well and I try to do just that. For example, my ankle hold is quite good, so I will go for it. On some days, I may catch raiders, while on some I may not. But that won’t stop me from making the move.
FP: Do you raid as well?
Fazel: Yes, in Iran I raid quite often, but here the league is a bit more professional. So if I go for a raid and get caught, we don’t have a left corner defender. That’s a big problem. So I feel it’s better to stay focused on just one job.
FP: Iran reached the final of the World Cup and played very well. How popular is kabaddi in Iran?
Fazel: In my city, Gorgan in north Iran, kabaddi is popular. Everyone there knows what kabaddi is. But that’s not the case in other parts of Iran. Maybe 40 percent of Iranians know what is kabaddi. There are eight players from my city in the national team, that’s why it is popular. We have a league in Iran and three clubs which play in it are from my city.
FP: How do you think Iran can improve? They gave India a close fight in the World Cup and Asian Games final, so they are pretty close to challenging India.
Fazel: We are close, but it’s still difficult (for us). We came close to taking the gold medal in the World Cup and Asian Games but we have just 100 good players. In India, kabaddi is very popular and they have 1,000 good players. So, India has more options for every position. There are about three-four players for every position. In Iran there’s just one or two. Only in my city you will see young kids playing kabaddi on the streets, but not in other cities. There the game is only restricted to schools and universities.
FP: How is the Iranian Kabaddi Federation trying to improve kabaddi in your country?
Fazel: The Federation has sent a lot of coaches to the other cities as they know with a proper system, kabaddi will grow in other cities as well. Now the situation is so much better that what it was ten years ago. Back then, we had just three good teams, but now all teams from all cities are very good and very close in terms of competitiveness.
FP: You have Abozar playing in Gujarat. Your partnership with him worked very well for Iran during the World Cup. So do you think that understanding will click in Pro Kabaddi too?
Fazel: Abozar and I play in the same team in Iran, also for the national team. Both of us are from the same city as well. We are trying to have the same level of partnership in the Gujarat team too. We want to win here. Our only focus is that. We want to show everyone here that we are good players.
FP: What is your greatest strength as a kabaddi player?
Fazel: My strength is my power. No raider can match me for power. If anyone wants to attack me or challenge me with full power, it’s not a problem for me. Bring it on, is what I will say.
Published Date: Aug 03, 2017 14:21 PM | Updated Date: Aug 03, 2017 14:21 PM