This year has been a great year for young Indian footballers. A whole bunch of under-21 players playing in I league, mostly because of AIFF initiative Indian Arrows. However, few other young talented footballers have been able to make a place for them in other teams too. One of such talented youngster is 19 year old Delhi boy Ankit Sharma, who has joined I league team Hindustan Aeronautics Limited SC (HAL). Although he joined in mid season and thus, played very few games in I league, his good performances have attracted attention among football followers, including being praised on the AIFF website. A versatile player and a complete team man, he has represented in different Indian junior teams in different positions depending on team’s need. The ultimate proof of his adaptability comes from the fact that he has represented youth national teams as a goalkeeper as well as a striker at different times.
Indian Football Network brings you an exclusive interview of this promising star.
(The Interview was taken in March, 2011 – So, the conversations won’t include any games played after that.)
IFN – Hi, Ankit. Good to see you doing well. Please tell a few words about yourself.
Ankit – Thanks. I was born in 30th July 1991, hailing from a much disciplined family as my father was a defence personnel and always maintained strict discipline. Although we were from Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, being in Air Force, my father had to move to different parts of the country, consequently we hardly spent much time in our home. However, in 2000, my dad retired and we settled in Delhi. We live in a joint family, which is quite fun, all my family members are close to me and very supportive.
One of the most important aspect of my life are my friends. They have been the biggest source of inspiration for me. I have a huge friend circle, I can’t think of living without them, esp. the AAAR – late Akshay, Aashish, Ankit (That’s me) & Ritesh. Unfortunately god took Akshay away from us on 20th Nov, 2008.
IFN: So, how did you get into football when most kids in India get into cricket?
Ankit: I was always in different sports – cricket, athletics, basketball. In fact, I played cricket in DDCA (Delhi & District Cricket Association) league, won school cricket and basketball tournaments and was also made the sports captain of our school. But Once I got into football, never thought beyond that. My first match was in the 5th standard. At that time I didn’t even dreamt of making big in football. I was doing well in football, luckily at that time Delhi government started a football academy, DDA football academy, to bring out the best talents in the state and I got into it when I was in 7th standard. So, it just happened to me and now I am loving it!!!
IFN: Tell us about your coaches.
Ankit: As I told you that I joined DDA football academy when I was in 7th standard and stayed there till I turned professional. Here I got great exposure, had one of the best group of coaches in India and had a vast view of the game. I would specially like to mention about Mr. RANJIT THAPA (ex international), Mr. MELVYN D’SOUZA, Mr. JASMER SINGH (ex services coach), Mr. NAVEEN TEOWATIA, Mr. BHANDARI and Mr. RAKESH JOSHI who are always willing to give me a helping hand whenever I needed.
Not only my academy coaches but every single coach who trained me in school (had different coaches in school as they were appointed by Air Force so they kept changing every year), however, Mr. HAKIM (ex-international,ex-fifa referee, a great administrator and an ex-national team coach) has been one of the most influential coaches among them in school. My state and national team coaches, MR. COLIN TOAL, SABIR PASHA, and NARAYAN MENON, also have a big role in helping me mature as a professional footballer. All my coaches helped me in different aspects and in different ways. Apart from getting trained by them, it is highly inspiring and motivating to learn from them who were great footballers in past. I even got their help in sorting out personal issues. I think if there would had been even a single person less in my life I would have not been at this level.
IFN: What are the teams you have played for?
Ankit: I started playing for my school team, AIR FORCE BAL BHARTI SCHOOL in 2002 and after that I played for Delhi state at u-16,17,19,21 and senior level. I had also been the captain in u17 and u19. I have also represented the National youth team at u14,17 and u19. However, the u17 camp was cancelled later on. Interestingly, during my early years I was called as a goalkeeper (u14,17), however, later in u19, I was a striker. Now I am playing in I league for HAL. I have also player for Delhi university team last year.
Ankit: I already had a call up from two I-league clubs but my injury kept me away from joining them. HAL had kept an eye on my performances at state level and youth national team. Once I recovered from injury they called me for trails and selected me.
IFN: What was the nature of your injuries? How serious are they?
Ankit: I had got ligament tear in right knee and that initially according to doctor should had kept me out for 6 months. But recovered quicker and came back before six months.
IFN: Tell us about your I league experience with HAL
Ankit: Playing in I-league for HAL is amazing. I also thank HAL as they gave me opportunity to prove myself at this level. We have got great coaches here, who help me out whenever I need them. Playing along with senior players like RC PRAKASH and XAVIER bhai, whom I have grown up watching, is a huge boost and inspiration for me. Till now I have only played four matches which were a great experience and I am looking forward for a great season ahead, both for me as well for the team.
IFN: Before the season had started many people had written off HAL, but they did produce few good results and are now in 9th position. What factors contributed to their above expectations performance?
Ankit: Well, every people have their own views, but it’s the performance on field which matters. I must also mention that we have the 2nd most youngest side of i-league with an average age of 22 years. However, along with that we have some very experienced seniors. We have a great understanding and team spirit. We play as team and we play for each other and that’s what keeps us going.
IFN: You had mentioned before that you represented youth national teams both as goalkeeper and striker. Which position you play now?
Ankit: I was playing as a goalkeeper even two years back. But then I started playing as a striker. But now my team needs me to play as a winger so for some time now I have been adapting in this role.
IFN: Not everyday we see players who had been goalkeepers as well as strikers. What was the reason for your transition and how difficult was it?
Ankit: I have always played wherever my team had needed me to play. So during the junior national championship (45th BC Roy Football championships), my team needed a player in front and demanded me to play in that position. And there I did well and produced fine results, since then I started playing as a striker. But today if my team demands me to play as a goalie, I will surely come ahead for it.
The transition was not easy, playing in the new position was difficult as I had no previous experience of playing in the front. But as I started playing, everything got better and then I started enjoying that position.
IFN: Your performance in this I league has even been praised at the AIFF website. What is your reaction?
Ankit: I thank them for appreciating my performance. But i have to improve a lot and me and my coaches are working on it. I believe a person should always be ready to learn because learning never ends and a person is never too old to learn anything. I am following this and hopeful of improving my performance with every match.
IFN: Looking back, what would you consider being the turning point of your career?
Ankit: The u19 national championship held at Bhilai (45th BC Roy Football championships, 2008-09) was a crucial turning point of my life. It was there when I got chance to play as striker for the very first time. I was the captain and my team needed me in this role. In that tournament our team (Delhi) reached semi finals for the first time since independence. I was the highest scorer in the tournament and got selected in the u19 national camp. Since then I never looked back.
IFN: Fans debate on the fact that including foreigners in I league takes away opportunities for young Indian footballers. What is your opinion on this? Do foreigners hamper our progress or do the Indian players get better playing against them?
Ankit: No one takes anyone’s opportunity. These are things which pessimists say. I don’t believe in such things. If you are the best no one can take your place. Besides, playing against good foreigners gives us chances to improve our skills and provides better competition. My coaches always used to say “play with people who are better than you and if you do that you will surely improve”.
IFN: Tell us about things which inspires you and some events which inspired you to football even more.
Ankit:Well, I had faced many hardships in my life. I can’t disclose all of them here. But these hard times did motivate me to
do better. One of the most shocking incidents in my life has been losing my friend Akshay two and half years ago, he always had motivated me and even now he inspires me and that is one of the reasons why I am playing football and still here.
I am also a religious person and that helps me a lot. I have always admired great personalities like Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh and as a sportsman Sachin Tendulkar. I like reading biographies of great people and get inspiration from them. Sachin is really a great sportsman, I like the way he takes challenges, the way he carries himself and his view of life.
IFN: How supportive was your family of your idea of being a professional footballer?
Ankit: There’s no one in my family who are much interested in sports, except for some cousins, who mainly follow cricket. In fact, sometimes they ask me why I haven’t taken up cricket! But as I was selected for junior national teams, they all started supporting and motivating me but they also want me to continue my studies. They didn’t even knew about I league, so I had to explain them by drawing parallels with cricket setup, sometimes this sounds embarrassing.
IFN: What are your future plans/goals?
Ankit: I am planning to keep up my studies with my game. Currently, I am in Delhi University, doing my graduation in Economics (2nd year). In terms of my career, I am looking for an opportunity to play and train abroad. Hopefully, I can move abroad next year if everything works well. I am also working hard to get into our senior national team.
IFN: What you do to relax?
Ankit – I love listening to soft music. I also enjoy swimming, chatting with friends on phone. Good food also attracts me a lot. And yeah, I read biography of great people a lot. I am also a lazy person, once I go to sleep, I can sleep for hours!
IFN: What are the other sports you like or follow?
Ankit – As I have told you that I am a complete sports freak. I love watching most sports, and given a chance I will also be playing them. However, Cricket, Basketball, Table Tennis and Lawn Tennis are my favorites.
IFN: What would you have been if not a footballer?
Ankit: I always wanted to do something for my country and football came itself and now I can’t even think beyond this. But still if I wanted to do anything I would love to be a police officer.
IFN: Finally, any messages to the young and aspiring footballers ?
Ankit: Keep working hard until you achieve your goals. Never depend on luck because “Luck favours those who dares to work hard”. Live your dream till the last breath.