Over his two-decade-long career, Mehrajuddin Wadoo played in football clubs all across the country. From featuring in the Kolkata Derby for both Mohun Bagan and East Bengal to lifting the Indian Super League title with Chennaiyin FC, Wadoo has had an illustrious career. With his recent appointment as coach to FC Pune City's U-18 team, he hopes to see more footballers from Jammu and Kashmir playing in the national leagues.
Fresh after launching the State Football Academy in Kashmir, the former India defender is looking to provide youngsters from the valley the chance to establish themselves as professional footballers in his role as the head coach of the U-18 team. "When I started playing football, there was not a single academy in Jammu and Kashmir. Local clubs were the only ones who were providing kids with the chance to play football," says Wadoo to Firstpost.
"The only academy I knew of was the Tata Football Academy but there was no way I could join them. I just played and trained at local clubs like any Kashmiri kid. As FC Pune's coach, I will obviously be looking to scout young players from Kashmir for the club," he says.
The Kashmir native always wanted to get into coaching after his playing career was over and actively worked to acquire his coaching badges. Currently working on getting his AFC 'A' coaching licence, Wadoo says that returning to Pune in a coaching capacity was something both he and the club had planned to do. The club had been in touch with Wadoo as he pursued his coaching badges and were enthusiastic about having him back on board.
Wadoo hopes that the wards from his first coaching assignment will have a positive response to his coaching, with the immediate goal being to ensure that some players progress to the first team next season. The calibre of the players and the progressive set up of the academy makes Wadoo confident of achieving his aim.
The setting up of football academies and the launch of youth and baby leagues have sprung from the increased interest in football in India. Apart from local football academies, a majority of ISL and I-League clubs have provided more openings for youngsters by entering their academy sides in the Youth League. Wadoo bats for continued support of youth programmes as he believes that the increasing focus on developing players has positively impacted the two leagues. According to him, "The league has moved on from being dependent on foreigners to being dependent on Indian players."
During his time establishing the state academy in Kashmir, Wadoo had a front seat to the rise of Real Kashmir. By winning the second division of the I-League, the Srinagar-based team have become the first football club from the valley to play in India's top-tier league. Real Kashmir's journey has galvanised the sport in the northern state and Wadoo trusts that their story will inspire the next generation of Kashmiri youth to get involved in the sport.
"I played in clubs across the country but I never played in Jammu and Kashmir because there was no club which could play in the I-league. I want Real Kashmir to grow because the Kashmiri people will finally have a club to root for," says Wadoo.
So will we see Wadoo shouting instructions from the sideline as Real Kashmir manager?
"Right now I am only focused on my U-18 team at Pune, but if the opportunity arises in the future, I would love to go for it."
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Updated Date: Oct 17, 2018 22:33 PM