At 16, he has played for Delhi State, Singaporean Giants Geylang FC and Balestier Khalsa FC, meet Abneet Bharti, India’s youngest player ever to sign a professional contract abroad. A boy who never had his feet planted, but roamed all parts of the world, Abneet is an example of Hardwork and Dedication. His Tall frame of 6’feet provides him with versatility to play as a Center Back or even as a Defensive Mid fielder.
Born In Kathmandu, Nepal, Abneet was forced into Football by his Physical Education teachers. Subsequently, his hardwork earned him the goalkeeping spot in his school team, a position which later was reverted when he joined the renowned ‘Baichung Bhutia Football Schools’. It is under the guidance of coach Jose Antonio Travis, that he learned the technicalities of the game. After stints with Delhi’s State Side and Delhi’s Shastri FC, Abneet was spotted by Scouts in Singapore and invited for a trail. After a two week trail hardship, Abneet signed the contract offered by Geylang FC, at a mere age of 13, making him the first Indian to sign a professional contract abroad. Such was his appetite and hardwork to excel, that the club even offered him an year extension in 2013.
Linked with top European Clubs, Abneet was called for the India U-16 squad, but things did not happen as he had prior commitments to his Club Side. Being the sole carrier of the Indian tri-color abroad, Abneet has made millions of Indians proud with his dedication and desire. The Hard Tackle’s Joseph Solomon caught up with the ever-smiling Abneet Bharti and talked to him about his journey.
Joseph : Hello Abneet, first of all we at The Hard Tackle would like to thank you for making us proud in a foregin land.
Abneet : Thanks mate, really appreciate it.
Joseph : Lets start with a very basic question, How did you find your passion for the beautiful game?
Abneet : After I was born in Kathmandu, Nepal. I moved to Rome, Italy in 2001 and stayed there till I was 7 years old, I was quite young then and due to surroundings in Italy I was aware of the beautiful game , but I still hardly played it and I only remember watching the Euro 2004 while I was in Italy. To be honest, Italy didn’t contribute too much to my passion for football. After Italy, I moved to Nigeria and that was when the World Cup 2006 was taking place and living in another football crazy country like Nigeria, was when my passion started to slowly develop. So to sum it up, it was the World Cup 2006 that made me find passion for football.
Joseph: Why did you decide to turn professional ? Given that most kids your age, dismiss the thought of playing professionally in India.
Abneet : Yes, many kids take it for fun, however if you feel you have the potential, you should go for it. I know the journey is hard and I am also on the same journey. If you want to become a professional footballer, you should go for it, however you need to work hard and most importantly you need support. Nothing is more joyful then getting earned for doing something you love. So if you love football and think you have the potential to chase your dreams then, work hard. However you need to have studies as a backup and not all players become professionals. But also remember you can get a degree when you turn 25, but can you start a football career at 25? The answer is simply no.
Joseph : Were your parents against your decision to play trade as a professional footballer?
Abneet : My parents were never against my decision from very first day. They actually want to see me as a professional footballer. They never said, son become an engineer or a doctor, instead they have said son, you will become a footballer! I am extremely lucky to have such supportive parents. Majority of my desire is fueled by them. My dad hardly misses my match.We dream together, of me and my brother being a footballer.My family has been the backbone of my football career till date, and I’m trying my best to never give a chance to let them down.
Joseph : Tell us something about your experiences as a goalkeeper for your School team
Abneet : I started off playing football due to the pressure of my friends as all my friends were going for the school team trial so I joined in too, I was about 10 years old then. Luckily, the coach chose me to be part of the team and I was a second choice goal keeper. However with my determination and improvement, I became the first choice goalkeeper only after the next school year and started all the matches.
Joseph : You were even played as a striker, how did this transition suit you?
Abneet : After I left Nigeria, and came back home to Delhi.I was played as a striker and since then for the next two years I played striker. I even represented the Delhi State Team as a striker. The transition was easy, given that I played as one in my early days and moreover I always wanted to be an outfield player.
Joseph : Later you developed and played in the midfield, what did you think of this regular change in your playing positions? Or was it more like a transition ?
Abneet : After staying in Delhi for 2 years, I moved to Singapore and I was playing for a football academy and then I was scouted by the Geylang International coaching staff and then I was called up for 2 week trials. During the 3rd day of trials, the coach tried me as a defensive midfielder and I performed superbly and after that I signed a contract with Geylang International for a season which I later renewed. With Geylang International, I was used mostly as a holding/defensive midfielder and occasionally as a Striker.I don’t think there was a transition, as player I have to be versatile . It all depends on the coach and what he sees in me regarding my abilities, my strengths or my weaknesses and also where he wants to put me in depending on the opponent and the tactics he is using. Today, I am glad that I have this versatility and can play multiple positions with ease.
Joseph : How did the change from Delhi to Singapore, suit you? Did you have some problems with the Singaporean dialect?
Abneet : Singapore is very diverse and i myself, have also lived in many cultures, so it was a piece of cake to be honest and I dint even notice the change.I am a very shy person however, my team mates were very friendly and helped me and made me comfortable since the first day I came for trials at Geylang international FC. Luckily, everyone in Singapore speaks English, so there was no language barrier.
Joseph : How are clubs like Geylang FC different from, Delhi based clubs such as Shastri FC? Is there a difference in Training Regime ?
Abneet : Obviously the level is totally different and the amount of exposure I am getting is also extremely higher. The level is totally higher so the facilities, the coaching staff, the exposure , the competitiveness is also extremely higher and much better.The method is entirely different, even the warm up or cooling down is different. Here we train almost everyday with a league match every week. Even the youth teams of each club have a own league under the senior S-League. For example like in India the only top tier youth league is I-League U-19, in Singapore they have the same S-League under 12/13. Moreover,the facilities are much better, all clubs have separate training grounds for each age group with at least one flood light.We also have a physio and one head fitness instructor for fitness and injury. So overall, we can say the difference is the professionalism.
Joseph : Balestier Khalsa FC, is certainly another big step for you. With links from top European teams, what do you aspire next ?
Abneet: Obviously, it is a step up in my career graph, as Balestier Khalsa FC is the top 3 club in Singapore. If u look at my career graph, two years ago I was playing for Shastri FC, which you can’t even consider a professional club now 2 years later I am playing in a top club in first division Singapore.However, For me playing in Singapore is a no big deal compared to the ambitions I have. I desire more,a lot more.To achieve my ambitions, I have to keep my feet on the ground and stay humble and also work extremely hard to take myself to the level I want to see myself.
Joseph : Moving to Indian Football, what do you think is the standard of the game here?
Abneet : Yes, I do follow Indian football.I must say that the standard is improving year by year. However not by a huge margin. The AIFF needs to start emphasizing on the grassroots. Kids should be coached from the ages of 5 and 6, moreover the Federation should also initiate programs to train more coaches.Lastly, Age fraud is also a huge speed breaker and needs to be erased.
Joseph : Lastly, Being a teenager myself, i find it difficult to manage time. How did you cope with academics as well as football ?
Abneet: I am a bright student, my teachers said so. But after a bit of handwork and compromising on my normal teenage life, I tend to balance my grades, its extremely hard but as you know if there is a will, there is always a way too.
Joseph : Great, moving into the Rapid Fire segment, Name your favorite players, both recent and all time.
Abneet : Thiago Silva and Cesc Fabregas
Joseph : Which Club do you support in the foreign league ?
Abneet : Arsenal
Joseph : Describe your most memorable moment
Abneet : Probably signing the contract after getting scouted, and then a intensive 2 week trial with Geylang International in 2012. It was a stepping stone in my football journey till date.
Joseph : Apart from Football, what are you hobbies?
Abneet : Nothing specific, leading a normal teenage life. I love eating though.
Joseph : We at The Hard Tackle, wish you the very best for your journey ahead. We hope that you make our country proud and sign for a European club very soon. Thank you, for taking time out from your busy schedule .
Abneet : No problem, and thank you for your wishes.
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