Seven years ago, on December 13 at 3 AM, Olympian Rahman, from his hospital bed, called his assistant coach Deepak C M and said in a fainted voice, “It is my dream. It is my passion. Take care of it for the development of football and build a platform for our youth.” After this incident, he went into coma and died two days later.
Seven years went past, four of his students are still keeping up the late Olympian’s dream and passion – Universal Soccer School – as a homage to the legend of Indian football. This football academy, aimed at educating and training youth in football, has contributed continually to Kerala football by changing the players into true professionals and fitting them into the challenges of the game in the modern times.
When started with a few enthusiastic players on April 16, 1996, Olympian Rahman’s aim was to boost and provide a platform for the talented, football-loving youth in the region. Now, the academy is one of the major contributors of players to the national and state leagues. There are several young talents who are playing in the I league and second division clubs, Viva Kerala, Mahindra United, Josco FC, Malabar United, etc. Moreover, there are flocks of players in district-level teams and state Santosh Trophy training camps selected from the academy.
“Apart from other training camps, we use state-of-art training facility, combining theory and practical classes,” says Deepak C M. “The biggest achievement I see is that when we started we were only training seniors. Now, there are different age groups practising under us.”
Beyond training, the academy sends students to various tourneys in different parts of India. The soccer team of the academy won last year’s National Futsal Competition. They beat Kolkata team in their home ground to grab the title.
“As Rahman Sir always says ‘I want to show my Olympian team mates and my fans how good my children are’. and as he wished we became champions in his own ground (Mohun Bagan in Kolkata) in front of Chunni Goswami and other legends in football. We actually felt Rahman Sir smiling and blessing us from the sky,” he reminisced.
Speaking about training methods, he said, “We brought many books and CDs from foreign countries. As the competition was a new one, we trained diligently and as a result we won the competition. There were about 150 teams in the preliminaries and 36 teams in the finals.” he said.
The training during camps are totally different from the usual football camps, claims Deepak.
“Theory classes are something unavoidable in football training. Most of the camps usually do not follow this. This will be a major set back in the long run,” he explained.
“Apart from techniques in football, we concentrate on inter-player relationships. High importance is given to good behaviour on the field and outside.” says Deepak. Overall we are looking forward for developing the personality of a player to get its full concentration and energy on the field, he added.
The camp comprises of behaviour skills, communication skills, psychometric skills, closed camp teachings on football laws and all the other parts of game, he said.
Before talent hunts, we usually conduct classes for parents to convince them about the future in football and to avail maximum support for players to concentrate fully on the training, he said.
Explaining that the academy’s main aim is to give experience in the game for players, Deepak said, “We are not for playing for the championship here in the District A Division. We want to give the players a platform for their career. Also, these players are playing without any remuneration and this shows their commitment level,” he pointed out.
Every success is earned and comes with hard work. “There were several hard times for our academy. We were using Malabar Christian College ground for our practise sessions. When there was some renovation work in the ground, we had to move out and because of less funds, we had to go to beach and practise,” he reminisced. Now with the help of sponsors, we do not have such problems, he relieved.
Deepak claims that this is the first football academy built for children. “This is the first camp started for the kids in Kozhikode. We have worked a lot to start the camp for the kids. The training is completely different from that of seniors.”
There is one batch each for the students below 9 years and 14 years. “This year when we started summer camp about 700 students came to participate the screening test. Sadly we had only 70 slots available,” he noted. There is also a monsoon camp, which starts from July onwards, he said.
The pioneers of the academy are Harris Rahman, son of the Olympian, Ajith Raj, Renjith P C, Deepak C M and Ranjith.P.C, secretary of the Universal Soccer School. There was one more ardent follower of football, Ahmed Basheer, who went to pursue his career abroad. “Though he went away, he is still contributing to the academy by sponsoring,” Deepak said. The players who are trained in the academy and now playing in I league are Shahinlal Meloly, Sharath, P Rahul, Noushad and Basith. Basith was in the Kerala team for Santosh trophy.
Kevin Kishore for FootballKerala.com