"The dream is to go the distance, win the championship"
Aniket Jadhav's eyes sparkle with sheer determination every time he speaks of the future — that of his as well as his club's. The 19-year-old has all but undertaken an improbable journey in a quest to quench his thirst for football — from stepping away from his hometown to have a better chance in learning the game to suiting up in Indian colours at the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, Jadhav has experienced a lot in his young career.
"I am from Kolhapur. And when I was 8 years old, I went to join the Krida Prabodhini School in Pune. I used to live in a hostel and that is where I started my footballing journey," reminisces the forward, before adding, "I learnt to play [the basics of] football from my coach Jaydeep Angirwal."
Angirwal's story as the resident coach at the Krida Prabodhini in Pune became popular in light of Jadav's mercurial rise in 2017 but anyone who knew the youngster since his early days would vouch how he always had his sights set on the big prize in football — to represent his nation in a FIFA World Cup.
On being asked if he always wanted to be a professional footballer, Jadhav responds with a resounding "Yes," before adding, "When I joined the Krida Prabodhini school, I was an athlete. But I fell in love with football and set my goal to become a good footballer."
It hasn't been easy by any means. While football has definitely carved out a niche for itself in the bigger cities like Mumbai and Pune, Maharashtra is still predominantly, a cricket-loving state and it took a combination of generational talent, years of hard work and a stroke of luck for Jadhav to break through.
"At that time, I-League was a staple in Pune. Then, came the Indian Super League. I was the ball boy in the first and second season of Indian Super League, for FC Pune City at the Balewadi Stadium," he says. "I had the passion for football, it just motivated me further and I feel so proud to now actually play in the ISL for Jamshedpur FC."
Jadhav's story is one of sheer will to make it to the top of the pyramid and actually turning his dreams into a reality. "I was in school when I got to know that the FIFA U-17 World Cup is happening in India after two years. I started working hard and in 2015, I went for the trials in Mumbai and got selected."
Jadhav caught the eye of the then-coach Nicolai Adams and Abhishek Yadav, the then-COO of the U-17 Indian team and the current team director of the senior national team, with his impressive array of skills and his path to become a World Cupper was paved.
The tournament was a game-changer, not only for the future of the sport in the country, but also for budding footballers across the nation — a fact Jadhav wholeheartedly acknowledges. "It was the first time that the U-17 World Cup was being hosted here. Not only were we excited, but we expected a great deal of support," he says and he wasn't disappointed by any means. The competition evoked emotions not only amongst every Indian football fan, but also in the layman who felt a sense of pride at what the young lads were able to achieve.
"It was a huge deal for me. I could learn so much in those two years, during the camp and of course, against such quality opposition in the World Cup. The fact that I got regular opportunities to play made me incredibly happy."
Known for his soft-spoken nature and tendency to speak the bare minimum, be it during a training session or the media events, he gets excited while mentioning his adulation for Cristiano Ronaldo, "From childhood, I have had two idols — Neymar and [Cristiano] Ronaldo. Neymar for his skills and Ronaldo for his passion for the game, and it still hasn't changed." Just like those two superstars plying their trade in European leagues, his European experience was nothing less than surreal, especially one at such a young age.
This past March, Jadhav found himself traveling to Lancashire, England for a training stint with the famed Blackburn Rovers Academy. For the middle-class boy from Kolhapur who gorged himself on English football simply through television, this was an opportunity of lifetime.
"I can't be thankful enough for that opportunity I got courtesy this club (Jamshedpur FC) and my agent," Jadhav states, further describing, "It was a new experience for me — not only did I get an insight regarding their style of play, but it also helped me in case of gym sessions and recovery sessions — something which has been incredibly beneficial this season."
"All they wanted from me was to give my hundred percent, and to learn as much as I could."
His enthusiasm along with his "mobility and athletic abilities" was praised by Blackburn Rovers head coach Tony Mowbray himself, who had pointed out how the youngster needed to improve his peripheral vision to find out teammates in more favourable positions — something which has reflected in Jadhav's game during his two appearances for Jamshedpur this season.
Grateful to @Rovers and staff members at the club for their support during the training stint. I got to learn a lot from them all and the time I spent there will be crucial in my journey as a professional football player. @IndSuperLeague @JamshedpurFC @IndianFootball pic.twitter.com/tdbJLwA53H
— Aniket Jadhav official (@aniketjadhav09) May 18, 2019
Before heading to Blackburn, Jadhav was a regular for the Indian Arrows, the I-League team comprising of talented Indian U-20 internationals hoping to make a mark on the bigger stage and it was his performances in I-League which has catapulted him to the forefront now.
Talking about his switch from playing for the Indian Arrows last season to now having a larger fanbase to cater to as a Jamshedpur FC player, Jadhav agrees there are "quite a few differences" between how the two leagues are handled, before softly admitting that the switch has been "an advantage" for him in terms of improving his overall game, for he gets to play against a variety of opposition players now, with his stint with Jamshedpur also allowing him to rub his shoulders with foreign imports like Sergio Castel and Tiri.
He still misses his old friends though. "I am still in touch with most of them — Rahul KP, Dheeraj Singh, Boris, Sanjeev Stalin. We had formed a bond in those three years we played together and I do miss them quite a lot. Hopefully, someday, we will be able to play again together for the Indian senior national team," adds Jadhav.
Always shying away from spotlight, Jadhav rarely shirks his responsibilities on the pitch though. It took him years of hard work and oodles of patience to get where he is and it clearly shows that the 19-year-old sports a winning mentality whenever he takes the field. "We want to qualify for the play-offs. We have to give our all in each and every game, no matter the result."
The unbeaten Jamshedpur FC will face a brutally-clinical ATK at the Yuva Bharati Krirangan on Saturday — arguably their toughest test of the season so far. While the onus lies on the Jamshedpur defense to put a stop to the burgeoning partnership between Roy Krishna and David Williams, coach Antonio Iriondo will certainly hope Jadhav brings his A-game to the city of joy, for he has the capability to be a match-winner for his club.
Just like he is calm and composed in the opponent's attacking third, Jadhav exhibits a touch of wisdom far beyond his years and the tenacity to flourish when presented with opportunities. "This is my first season in this league and with the club and I hope to live up to the huge expectations the club has from me," Jadhav signs off, but the 19-year-old is only in the ascent to the summit of his footballing glory.
Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.
Updated Date: Nov 08, 2019 19:56:44 IST