It is a new beginning for former FIFA U-17 World Cupper Abhijit Sarkar, who is about to begin his maiden season in the Indian Super League for Chennaiyin FC at the Tilak Maidan in Goa on Tuesday, November 24.
The young playmaker has steadily progressed through the ranks from the AIFF Elite Academy to Indian Arrows, followed by a stint in East Bengal Club last season, before finally landing up in Chennaiyin FC for the current campaign.
“It’s a new team for me. So it took some time for me to adjust to the new staff and new teammates. But day-by-day, I have become comfortable with everyone, as all my teammates have been very accommodating,” said Sarkar. “We are sweating it out every day, and I’m really excited about the start of the ISL.”
The 20-year-old has fond memories with his former India U-17 and Indian Arrows mates, many of whom have themselves signed for different ISL sides. Indeed, Sarkar highlighted a kind of brotherhood that has developed between the players, who spent years playing exposure matches in preparation for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, followed by two seasons at the Indian Arrows.
“I really miss those days when we were all training together for the World Cup. I miss all my friends from that team. They’re all like my brothers,” reminisced Sarkar. “That experience of playing in the World Cup, and all the exposure matches that we played in the months leading up to the World Cup have helped me a lot.”
While some of the former Arrows boys like Deepak Tangri, Samik Mitra and Aman Chetri will be joining Abhijit at Chennaiyin FC this season, it is a separate matter when these “brothers” square-off against other former Arrows cadets who are now playing for other sides.
“Of course, when we are playing against each other, we are all enemies,” laughed Sarkar. “During a game, you don’t see who is your friend. We are all friends off the pitch, and we all keep in touch. But there’s no love lost during the match.”
“After the game, of course, we go back to being brothers again. We all speak to each other over the phone, and we talk about our games, so that camaraderie has always remained,” he stated.
After the FIFA U-17 World Cup, the attacking midfielder spent two seasons at Indian Arrows, where he got the invaluable experience of playing against senior teams while he was still a teenager.
“We learned a lot from the two years that we played in the Indian Arrows. That experience of playing against senior players at such an early stage in our career was a huge boon for us,” he said.
While the 20-year-old has already amassed the unique experience of playing in a FIFA World Cup, followed by three seasons in senior football, is now set for an altogether unique episode of Indian football – inside a COVID-safety bubble.
“This is a new experience, not just for me, but for everyone inside the bubble. Being in the bubble and the quarantine is something that we are all getting used to. But the focus is on football when we train,” said Sarkar. “So despite everything that’s happening around us, we keep improving every day on the training pitch. This is my first time in the ISL, so I am doubly focused on improving my game and proving myself.”