Boys to men

When he first played a football match at Kurla’s Shivaji Ground six years ago, Ashish Sharma couldn’t possibly have imagined that one day, his football skills would land him in one of the most hallowed soccer schools of the world.

Ashish Sharma and Porus Shroff were selected among 4,000 boys from Mumbai to undergo a week-long training at Manchester United in February. Pic/ Atul Kamble   

The FYJC student of Rizvi College, Bandra, who has just returned from an intensive week-long session at Manchester United, now nurtures a dream to become a professional football player. Sharma, whose father drives a rickshaw in Mumbai, is aiming high after becoming one of the 12 boys who were selected from India as part of the Airtel Rising Stars Initiative that took the boys to train at Manchester United Soccer School.

Tryst with destiny
The shy 16-year-old’s eyes light up when he starts talking about football. “Earlier I used to play cricket with my friends, who were mostly older than me. But when many of them were appearing for their SSC exams, I didn’t have any company. That’s when I started watching other boys playing football at the nearby Shivaji ground. I enjoyed the game and asked the coach there to train me too,” he recalls.

Sharma soon started pursuing the sport seriously and was also part of a winning team at the Mumbai district championship last year. In August, out of sheer curiosity he landed up at Parel’s St Xavier’s Ground where 4,000 boys had gathered to win a seat on the Airtel Rising Stars Initiative.

Dribbling to a better future
At the same time as Sharma was dreaming about Man U, so was another teenager. Seventeen-year-old Porus Shroff, a resident of Colaba, was also one of the many hopefuls who had gathered at the St Xavier’s ground. Shroff, a student of HR College, was interested in sports as a child and has been playing soccer since he was six.

At his father’s behest, the teenager, who has been training at the Kenkre Football Academy, went for the selection.

After a series of skill competitions and practice matches, Shroff and Sharma, along with two other boys, were selected as the four lucky winners from Mumbai for the final selection in Bangalore. Then, following six days of intensive training sessions where they were tested on physical attributes, individual skills, match situations and their performances in actual matches, they were the only two to be chosen from Mumbai to be taken to Man U.

The two, who were among 12 boys from all over India chosen for the trip that took place in February this year, are visibly excited as they recount their experience. Sharma says, “During the week-long session at Manchester, two coaches affiliated with the Manchester United Soccer School and Youth Academy, taught us communication skills and how to increase our speed and agility.”

Shroff adds, “When we reached there, we realised everything was different. The ground was different and there were smaller goals to improve accuracy.”

The boys also got an opportunity to visit Manchester United’s dressing room and the dugout where Sir Alex Ferguson, the club’s iconic manager since 1986, thinks up those match-winning strategies. “Manchester United is one of the greatest clubs of the world. Watching the team play at Old Trafford, their home, was a dream come true,” says Shroff.

Just to ensure the boys got back home only after putting up a good fight, they were made to play a friendly match against a local team. Shroff says, “Though it was an under-15 team, the players were taller and better built than us. We won the match 3-1 but realised that we have to be bigger and stronger.”

However, the duo admits that life has changed for the better after this experience. As Sharma says, “My parents were extremely happy as I was the first member of our family to ever visit abroad. As for me, my speed has increased and I have got a better sense of the game. Now, I want to play soccer professionally.”

Shroff, meanwhile, is all set to go abroad for further studies. And he has football to thank. “The training has helped my overall game,” he says. And yes, soccer will definitely feature in his future plans. “After all, I got my scholarship abroad, thanks to the game,” he signs off.

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