While most players at FC Pune City take time off during the rest of the evening after a game, Sarthak Golui is holed up in his space with business to attend to. For the next few minutes, the 21-year-old is all ears, as his father, Deb Kumar critically dissects his performance on the field.
Only once they are both satisfied, does Sarthak settle down for supper and a good night's sleep. For, it is this feedback handed out by his first coach that has been vital to his progress over the years. And in turn, through the exploits of his son, Deb Kumar is living the dream that he longed to be a part of during his playing days.
As a teenager, Deb Kumar was making rapid progress on the Kolkata maidans while turning out for Eastern Railways in the Calcutta Football League. That journey as a centre back came to a rude end when he picked up a knee injury at the age of 23. For the next two years, the boots were packed up as he spent a lonely time in recovery after surgery. Once back on the ground, he was a pale shadow of the player he used to be.
But even as he gradually found his place again on the starting XI, he geared up for life beyond his playing days, one that in turn, benefitted his son in the long run.
"After my training session, I used to move to another part of the ground and run a coaching centre for any kid who was interested. This was started nine years before Sarthak was born," Deb Kumar says over the phone from Kolkata.
It didn't take long for Sarthak to take to football. As a toddler, he watched his father from the sidelines and at the age of four, Deb Kumar pushed him into training alongside the other boys. Just a year into it, he was left impressed with Sarthak's passing and receiving, besides being a good runner.
"It was a relief to see him naturally inclined towards the game," Deb Kumar says.
During those early days, Sarthak started out as a striker, happy to play the poacher inside the box. But at a camp conducted by Bastab Roy, who is the coach at East Bengal these days, he found himself manning the defence like his father.
"There was a player missing at the back, so I was asked to take his place. I was 12 then and have played in the defence ever since," he says.
After hanging his boots, Deb Kumar took to work as part of the maintenance department. Having joined the railways through a sports quota, the four-hour work shift gave him enough time to spend at the ground, guiding Sarthak through the finer points of defending.
"I was an average student, though I never really studied. My father never insisted on good grades either, and allowed me to spend all my time at play," Sarthak says.
"He wanted me to achieve some of the goals that he couldn't achieve in his career," he adds.
Sarthak quit school when in the ninth grade and pursued his exams through open schooling. The extra hours spent on the ground handed him the opportunity to represent West Bengal at the under-16 Mir Iqbal Hussain Trophy in 2011, where they reached the semi-final. Here, he was spotted by Colm Toal, the technical director of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) at that time, and he was invited to a camp in Goa. Once AIFF's Elite Academy was established in 2013, he spent the next four years training there, turning out regularly for the India under-16 and under-19 sides.
"I missed watching him train, but I knew he was in good hands. Honestly, I didn't know what to do with the free time I had on hand after he moved to Goa," Deb Kumar says.
By the time Sarthak graduated, clubs such as Dempo and Salgaocar had pulled out of the I-League, sending teens like him on a frantic search for an employer.
"A few players didn't even get a team. I was lucky that the academy reached out to coach Sanjoy Sen at Mohun Bagan and requested a trial for me," Sarthak recalls.
This was the same club that he had tried out for a few years ago but had failed to make the cut then. Though he got picked this time around in 2015, he knew game time would be hard to come by.
"That team featured Pritam Kotal, Pronay Halder, Souvik Chakrabarti, Raju Gaikwad and Dhanachandra Singh in the defence — all top players, besides Sony (Norde) and (Darryl) Duffy. I would get over the disappointment of not getting game time by making peace with the fact that at least I was learning," he recalls.
"He would feel really low at times, but I told him to enjoy the game and play with heart — your time will come," Deb Kumar says.
That season, Sarthak managed just two appearances in the I-League. The following year, he got his first taste of what Kolkata football was all about — and what his father had experienced — when he played the local league.
"These are passionate fans. You don't have a choice but to bring your best to the ground, else you'll have a lot of questions to answer. And in case you forget your job, that bottle lands close enough to remind you why you are there," he says, smiling.
But for a youngster like him, the lack of game time at the club hurt. Even as he continued turning out for the India U-23 side, at Bagan, he was warming the bench during the I-League in 2016-17. At the end of that season, Sarthak sat down to reconsider his options. Out of the blue, he received a call from Pradhyum Reddy, technical director at Pune City, who asked him if he would join the club.
"There was an injury to Nim Dorjee Tamang and they needed an under-23 replacement for him. It was good for my confidence that someone wanted me, even though I didn't have enough game time," Sarthak says.
Last season, Sarthak proved his worth and earned the confidence of coach Ranko Popovic, who handed him 14 games en route their first Indian Super League semi-final appearance in four seasons. He also scored his first professional goal in a 1-1 draw against Bengaluru FC in February 2018.
"And my father still decided to dissect my game as he always does. Papa achcha to zyada bolte nahin hai kabhi, bohot gali padta hai (My father rarely praises my game, I always get an earful)," he says.
That season earned him his first international cap when he was included as part of the senior national side that finished runners-up at the SAFF Championship in Bangladesh a couple of months ago.
"To wear the jersey was massive, more so, because when I went home and showed it to my father, he finally smiled. He's kept it with him ever since," Sarthak says.
And for once, Deb Kumar had few words of praise for his son in all these years.
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Updated Date: Nov 08, 2018 17:01:28 IST