Three years ago, when the world was suffering from the mental stresses of a pandemic-induced lockdown, a young man from Adampur, Punjab, was also suffering mentally, albeit due to different reasons.
Centre-back Anwar Ali, till then, had had a promising career, coming through the ranks of junior football, and looked set as one of the brightest young defenders from India. However, he was soon diagnosed with a rare heart condition, by didn’t of which he was advised by medical experts to not continue playing the game that he held so close to his heart.
“That was a very difficult phase of my life. Everything looked set before that – I had a good time in junior football, and was looking forward to playing the ISL and maybe making the senior national team one day. But now I was being told that I could not play football anymore,” Anwar told.
“It was a very stressful time for me, and we were going door to door, in order to find different avenues for me to continue playing. There was a point when even I gave up, but my family supported me through the whole thing. I also had so much support from my club, and finally got the clearance to play in 2021,” he said.
“It’s not easy to come through such periods, but thankfully I had some very supportive people around me, who helped me through thick and thin,” said Anwar.
The promising career that once seemed to be derailed through no fault of Anwar’s, was soon back on track. After brief stints at Mohammedan Sporting and Delhi FC, Anwar got the opportunity to play at FC Goa in the Indian Super League, before finally being called up to the Senior National Team for the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers Third Round in 2022 in Kolkata.
“That was a big moment for me. Playing for the senior national team has always been a goal, ever since I was a kid, but getting the chance after all this struggle made it even more special,” he said. “But such hard times also make you wary and more levelheaded. I know that I must keep working hard in order to stay in the team. The Asian Cup next year is one of my targets, and I want to be in the squad when we play.”
Not only did he play a crucial role in helping India secure qualification for the AFC Asian Cup, but Anwar also had a moment of redemption when India lifted the Tri-Nation Cup in Imphal, earlier this year – his first medal in international football.
“This last year has been nothing short of amazing. Coming from a point of absolute despair, to playing professional football again, and then playing for the national team, it’s been quite special. The Tri-Nation was also a special moment for me personally. I have not yet won that many trophies in my career, and winning a medal for the National Team was a great feeling,” said Anwar.
The 22-year-old centre-back is currently with the Blue Tigers squad that is camping in Bhubaneswar, where the Indian team are training with infrastructural aid from the Government of Odisha. They are currently preparing for the Intercontinental Cup (Lebanon, Vanuatu, Mongolia), which will get underway in the city from June 9. After the completion of the Intercontinental Cup (on June 18), the Blue Tigers will shift base to Bengaluru, where they will participate in the SAFF Championship, where they have been grouped with Kuwait, Nepal, Pakistan.
“We are all really motivated for the two tournaments ahead. Everyone is focusing on the AFC Asian Cup, where we want to do well. Of course, we will be facing some very good sides, who have a lot of strong points, but we also have our own strengths, which we will of course, play to,” said he.
At the age of 22, Anwar has gone through some tough times in his career, and has emerged as a level-headed youngster who shows his calm in the back-four. However, the young man has faced his demons and has come back fighting in his career.
“We all face some struggles or the other, in our life. Some of us more than the others, but we should never give up. I was on the point of giving up, but had some very good people around me, who helped me out. I just hope the same for everyone else too,” he said.