Uttam Rai is a 16 year old footballer from Sikkim who has already carved a name for himself in Indian football lore with his outstanding performances at the international stage, and is now looking to script history for India at the AFC U16 Championships later this year. Uttam scored five goals vs. Kyrgyzstan in a U16 AFC Championships Qualifier, and also picked up the Offensive player of the Year Award 2011 at IMG Academy, Florida, which he attended as part of the IMG-Reliance Scholarship program. He was named as one of Top 3 Indian strikers in 2011 on Goal.com, and recently was mentioned as one of ‘10 Players to Watch Out For’ at the largest international youth football tournament, the Dallas Cup.
Sachin Madaan of THT caught up EXCLUSIVELY with the Sikkimese Phenomenon on his return to Indian shores after another successful year at the IMG Academy:
THT. What was your learning, as an individual and also as part of a team, from the Dallas Cup?
Uttam: It was a great experience to play football at such a high level. We still have a lot to improve to take our (Indian) football to such heights. We saw and played against many good teams like Manchester United and came to gauge the possibilities for us to reach those heights.
THT. You played some brilliant football during last year’s AFC U16 Championship qualifiers; tell us a bit about those matches.
Uttam: I think as a team we played really well in the tournament to qualify. We couldn’t give the same performance in all matches. Anyway, we will try harder in the main tournament to do much better.
THT. Do you have any plans to sign for an Indian club in the near future?
Uttam: Quite honestly, I’m not focused on clubs at all at the moment; I have a lot of ambition to develop into a better player and the rest is on destiny. I want to play at the top level and I am more inclined to continue my education and development.
THT. Football in Sikkim seems to have finally gotten the launch-pad they deserve in the form of USFC. Do you think the club will make a major difference for youngsters like you who dream of taking up football?
Uttam: Sikkim has always produced good footballers; we have football in our blood! United Sikkim is going to expose India and the world to Sikkimese talent. I feel really proud to be from the same state as a football legend like Baichung, and also for USFC.
THT. What do you think about the team’s chances for the AFC U-16 event later this year?
Uttam: We will be practicing and training for the tournament now that we’re back. Obviously we are all very excited as we have some very good players and we hope we will do very well in the tournament.
THT. Could you tell us about the composition of the U-16 team and who are the players we should keenly follow?
Uttam: There are some very good players and we play closely as a team. That’s why we have been able to gel together and play the kind of football we like. Colin Toal sir is a great coach, I have learned a lot from him and the other coaches here. We want the future of Indian football to be successful and are working hard towards it. I will leave it to you to watch all of us and decide!
THT. How difficult is to stay away from home and your country for such a long time?
Uttam: It’s not so difficult anymore… I’m used to it now!
THT. Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
Uttam: Hopefully playing football for a top club abroad with all of you supporting me and my team! My ultimate dream is to play the World Cup for India…!
THT. And at last, tell us about your football idols.
Uttam: Fernando Torres is my idol… he is a great player and I hope I can be like him. He had some bad times but his quality is unquestionable. I hope someday I can be like him and play at a big club like him.
THT. How has Libero Sports helped you in your career so far?
Uttam: They are very supportive… we are in touch and they offer me advice and are looking to guide me for my future. I hope they will help me achieve my dreams, which is to become a better player and some day play for a top club in the world.
Uttam Rai is exclusively represented by Libero Sports. TheHardTackle, wishes Uttam a splendid future ahead. This young phenomenon from Sikkim will be the next big thing in Indian football.
Click here to ‘Like’ Uttam’s Official Facebook Page.