Name: UTTAM RAI
Born – 20.12.1996
Position – Striker
Current Club – IMG Academy
Represented India At – U14, U15, U16
Some footballers often influence generations after them to want to get involved with the game. George Weah had such an impact on Liberian football while in India Baichung Bhutia comes closest to changing the football landscape of an entire state. Ever since Baichung established himself as golden boy of Indian football, Sikkim, his native state has kept on producing footballers. The Sikkim Government also plays an active role in promotion of football in the state in order to keep its youth falling prey drug peddlers. The latest addition to Sikkim’s ever burgeoning football galaxy is young Uttam Rai.
Uttam was born in Namchi, near Tinkitam his hero Baichung’s birth place. In 2007-08 his talent earned him a spot in Namchi Academy, where he trained under the watchful eyes of Suren Chhetri. He was part of the Namchi Academy team that participated in Subroto Cup in 2007. In his very first Subroto Cup, Uttam notched up a superlative performance scoring 4 goals in a period of 35 minutes as Namchi Academy defeated Sri Vyas Vidya Mandir 13-0.
He again grabbed the limelight during Subroto Cup in 2008. His impressive performances earned him a scholarship in the famous Air Force School in Delhi as he shifted his base from Sikkim. Following year he was selected for India U14 team to participate in AFC Youth Festival in Iran. Uttam was unstoppable in that tournament scoring four goals – against Nepal, Iran and Maldives (two). At the same time he continued to score goals for fun in Subroto Cup and DSA School Level League. Between 2006 and 2008, Uttam Rai scored an impressive 31 goals in three editions of Subroto Cup.
In 2009, he was part of the Subroto XI team which went on a tour of Zurich, Switzerland. Uttam’s performance against Grass Hoppers Zurich Academy was outstanding – his team lost the first game 5-2 but won the second game as Uttam scored three goals in those 2 matches. Uttam’s performance earned him an unprecedented offer to appear for trials for Grass Hoppers Club – one of the most successful Swiss clubs. This was an opportunity of a lifetime for the 13 year old Uttam as the Swiss club also promised to take care of his studies. He was offered a six month contract and it looked like he would be following his idols steps to play outside India. Sadly, the move didn’t materialize in the end as Uttam was denied his chance due to work permit related issues.
Same year Uttam was made the vice-captain of Delhi for 32nd Mir Iqbal Hussain Trophy. In Novemeber, he scored a hattrick in final of DSA Inter-School Championship as Air Force School thumped Scottish International School in final.
Uttam Rai’s glorious opportunity to play in Europe might have eluded him but it was just the first big step in his career. His star continued to rise as he was again selected as part of India U14 team to tour Iran to play in AFC Cup in June, 2010. In August that year he was chosen as one of the upcoming talents in Tata Tea Jago Re tournament and travelled with an U16 squad to play some matches and train in Arsenal Academy. India played Canada, South Africa and England in first few rounds – winning first two matches but drawing against England. After a keenly contested semi-final against Spain Uttam’s team lost 7-5 after tie breaker. This experience helped Uttam to become a better player.
In 2010 Uttam Rai was one of the few lucky boys who were selected to take part in IMG-Reliance Academy in Florida. The Academy is famous for its lavish facilities – the kind players can only dream of in India. Since joining the IMG Academy Uttam Rai has continued performing to his level best. He notched up a hattrick few months back as India defeated IMG Academy 7-2. He also played a crucial part in Indian U14 team’s victory in IMG U15 Cup during December, 2010. Uttam has continued banging goals regularly in last few months. In January he scored a hattrick as India U16 defeated IMG U18 Academy 3-0, in February he scored as India U16 team defeated Salgaocar Academy 5-0.
Sadly, Uttam seems to be having a bad luck regarding injuries during important tournaments. He got injured during Dr Pepper Dallas Cup 2011 while fitness related issues kept him out of U16 SAFF Cup squad. Without him in the team, India struggled to finish the dozens of chances they created throughout the tournament – eventually finishing runner-up to Pakistan.
Five Interesting Facts About Uttam Rai
1) He was selected as the best offensive player in IMG Annual Awards in 2011. The only Indian player to get an award in overall, age irrespective section
2) He is a big fan of Fernando Torres.
3) He was first noticed during a campaign aptly titled “Search for more Baichungs”.
4) Uttam Rai was born in a village which is very near to where Baichung was born.
5) Uttam Rai was the first under-14 footballer to be ever picked by a professional football club from Switzerland.
The North Eastern states have become a hub for Indian football in last few years, churning out new clubs and players with frightening frequency. However, a large number of these players fail to fulfill their early potential due to discipline related issues. Uttam Rai is clearly a footballer who is streets ahead of boys of his age bracket but he has to be groomed with utmost care. If his talent is properly developed he could very well be an able successor to Baichung or Sunil Chhetri.