Invest the money smartly, insists Subrata Pal

 Nilanjan Datta

Almost everyone will agree Subrata Pal has stayed India’s most consistent performer in last few years. Pal who stayed away from action since the Federation Cup made a return to professional football a few days back after the I-League re-started. In a freewheeling interview to, the present Pune FC goalkeeper spoke at length about the I-League, his dreams of playing abroad, the money involved in domestic football and much more. EXCERPTS:

 How cruel was it to stay away from action?
Football is a body contact sport but I pray to the Almighty that no footballer ever sustains an injury that keeps him out of action. Football stays the bread and butter for a professional footballer and staying away demoralises you mentally.

Having won the AFC Challenge Cup in New Delhi, it stayed my dream to play in the AFC Challenge Cup in Kathmandu. It was such an important tournament for us. But everything is destined. I also missed almost 20 matches of the I-League. Tarik Sheikh, Pune FC’s physio took special care of me during the period.

Do you believe the I-League changed over the years?
A lot! There are more teams playing from the time I first played. But I feel there should be more teams and representation from more states.

There’s no denying the quality of matches have improved leaps and bounds and there are quality foreign recruits who play in the League at the moment. Matches under floodlights would improve the quality further. …and the fan following?
It’s heartening to see the newer generation following the League on social networking websites. The matches are being broadcast live on Ten Action Plus and it’s reaching all corners.

Boys who come from affluent background are taking up the sport – I rate that as one of the most positive developments. That was badly needed.

The quality of the next batch – which were once part of the Indian Arrows, can never be doubted. Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu), Dika (Lalrindika Ralte), Jeje (Lalpeklua), Raju (Gaikwad), Jewel (Raja Shaikh) and the rest connect better to the newer generation. They are all products of the I-League. I only hope they get the right guidance.

You have played for the Big-two in Kolkata and are now an integral part of Pune FC. How would you describe your stint with Pune FC?
Playing for Kolkata’s Big-Two stays the dream of every Indian footballer. But there have been hard phases during my stint with the two clubs. Here in Pune FC, I’m a satisfied person. The management stays concerned about the players and the positive mindset stays infectious.

Besides, the facilities are conducive for good football. We play home-matches under the lights at the Balewadi (Sports Complex). You look at the stands and you’ll find families watching matches with their kids. It resembles a picnic in the stands. Also, merchandising adds to the popularity.

Do you still nurture the dream of playing abroad?
Certainly! I did get an offer from an Asian Club but it came at a time when I was nursing my knee injury. My dream stays to play in Europe, England to be precise.

There’s an opinion that Indian footballers don’t want to venture out as the amount of money involved in Indian domestic football is much higher. What’s your take?
I can’t comment on behalf of other players. But money has never been the priority for me. After the contract has been penned down, I have never ever enquired about my salary – be it with any club. Surely money does matter but that has never been my driving force. I’m ready to play for free if someone gives me a chance (to play in the West).

I feel I have been lucky enough to have played for India. I believe there are/were many good goalkeepers around. But I was entrusted the responsibility by my coach and I have tried my best.

How do you react to reports that Indian National Team players are being contracted for almost 70 lakh on an average for the forthcoming domestic season?
One needs to understand that footballers are professionals. There’s a pay-roll in every organisation. If that’s the trend for payment to Indian footballers, let it be so. Money is an important part of everyone’s lives and footballers deserve what they are being paid. Not to forget that money would lure more youngsters into the sport. In that sense, the sport will grow. Let’s face the reality — no parent wants their kid to be a part of a profession which doesn’t pay.

But I’d request all to use it smartly. One shouldn’t forget that most Footballers in India come from very poor background and they need the money to support their families. One needs to understand that most footballers don’t have adequate educational qualifications which would land them a job once they leave football. There are so many footballers from yesteryears who are struggling financially. I don’t want my contemporaries to face the same situation thirty years from now.

Is ‘Spiderman’ the biggest compliment you have received so far?
That is past for me. In every match, there’s a different striker in front of you and in that situation, past laurels hardly matters.

I intend not to look back. If people have written/spoken highly about me, it stays an inspiration to do better; if people have written/spoken lowly about me, it stays an inspiration to do better. I’m eager to learn more. And you need to be flexible enough to learn even from your juniors. That’s how you improve.

Have you changed as a person over the years?
It’s up to others to say. I can’t comment. On the field, I have learnt to stay calm and be more patient. I have learnt to overcome bad phases and I have gone through quite a few. Life is a learning process; I have learnt it the hard way.

I still remember my childhood days when I just practiced and practiced and even forgot to eat. My wife Debasmita, Debasis-Sir (Debasis Mukherjee — his present father-in-law) and my family have stood by me during my bad days.