Indian footballer Pratik Shinde's rags-to-riches story is inspiring

May 21, 2017, 11:30 IST | Aastha Atray Banan

Pratik Shinde, who joined the Houston Hurricanes when he was a mere 15 years old, hopes to help other aspiring footballers from Mumbai make the same rags-to-riches journey

Pratik Shinde, 21, who became the youngest player ever to bag a foreign contract six years ago, and then played for the Indian Soccer League for Pune City at 19, has started the Pratik Shinde Football Academy on the premises of the NG Acharya & DK Marathe College. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Pratik Shinde, 21, who became the youngest player ever to bag a foreign contract six years ago, and then played for the Indian Soccer League for Pune City at 19, has started the Pratik Shinde Football Academy on the premises of the NG Acharya & DK Marathe College. Pic/Suresh Karkera

"Seeing me serves as an inspiration. I may have worked like a dog to get where I have, but if I have done it, anyone can," says footballer Pratik Shinde. His is a rags to riches story.

Shinde left school when he was 12 years old. His father, Prakash Shinde, who used to sing playback for Marathi movies had passed away, and someone had to help his mother Asha, run the house. While his two younger sisters went to school, and his mother worked as house help in the Chembur neighbourhood they lived in, Shinde started distributing newspapers. But, he had what they call in Mumbai, a kida, an itch - he wanted to play football, and his innate talent had landed him a gig with the Andheri Football Academy.

Footballer Pratik Shinde trains the children at his academy in Chembur
Footballer Pratik Shinde trains the children at his academy in Chembur

It was at the under-14 tournament Gothia Cup in Sweden in 2011, where he scored a goal against a German team, that Brendan Keyes, Irish football manager and former player who currently owns and coaches Houston Hurricanes FC, spotted him. Shinde, at the age of 15, became the youngest player to earn a foreign contract, and then played for the Indian Soccer League for Pune City at 19. Now 21, he is back in the city before he returns in six months, and he is spending his time trying to help youngsters who only have football on their minds, turn their dreams into reality.

Swadha Agrawan, 15, convinced her school principal to form a girls' football team in a display of gender equality
Swadha Agrawan, 15, convinced her school principal to form a girls' football team in a display of gender equality

We are at the Pratik Shinde Football Academy, which opens this Tuesday, in Chembur, watching kids play at the green turfs on the premises of the NG Acharya & DK Marathe College. He has another academy in Chembur which trains underprivileged kids for free, but on a public ground. "I will be getting those children here too," says Shinde. The new academy, which charges an affordable R1,700 for a month of training, already has 16 registrations. The aim is to provide world-class training, and equipment, take the kids for international competitions, and get foreign coaches to drop by, all because Shinde has made some good connections during his time in Houston. "There is the Dana Cup that takes place in Denmark. I have already made inroads there. The best players from here will be going there in a few months to train," he says. He will be assisted by his own coach, Vaibhav Gavala, who's trained him ever since he was 15. Shinde also plans to get his famous friends, like badminton player Ashwani Ponappa, to visit and talk sport with the children.

The vibe at the turf is exciting, and the children - all aged 14 to 17 - clearly idolise Shinde. Swadha Agrawan (15) is the only girl playing, and says that it's a revenge strategy. "I used to see the boys in my society play, and they always said, girls can't. So, I joined them just to spite them. But, then I started enjoying it." She was eight years old then, and at 12, she convinced the principal of her school, JJ Academy in Mulund, to form a girls' football team. Ask her what her pitch to the principal was and she says with a cheeky grin, "I told him we needed to think about equality." Swadha doesn't waste her time on football videos. She doesn't just want to watch, she wants to play. And Shinde is her only inspiration. "What he has done is unbelievable." Her parents, too, agree with her choice of career - "they are ready to do anything to help me become a world-class player. They, thanks to Pratik sir, know that football is a real career option." Her friend and co-player, Akshit Dave (16) agrees. His aim, like Swadha, is to play professional football. The baby-faced boy, who we see transform into an aggressive player on turf, says that it's the legendary Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo who he used to take inspiration from, but after he met Shinde, things have changed. "I watched all his videos and I want to be him."

Shinde blushes at their praise, but seems confident about his plan to pin India on the international football map. And, though he says that he did face initial hiccups settling into the Houston Hurricanes camp, just to prove his sports prowess, his aim is to make it easier for everyone else he knows. Ask him if he faced any racism in the US, and he laughs. "India is more racist. The Indian football federation is elitist and biased. They grudge that I have done everything on my own. I have never been invited for a national event. I don't want any of these kids to face discrimination. That's why I am here."

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