National Team defender Pritam Kotal stresses that the modern-day Indian footballer is extremely health conscious and is never willing to give in to the temptation. As the Blue Tigers prepare in Doha for the forthcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup – Qatar /2023 AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers, in a candid chat with AIFF Media, Pritam opens up about his role in the team, adjusting to the coach’s philosophy, the short duration camp, him taking inspiration from Virat Kohli’s fitness regime, staying away from luchi, begun-bhaga, mishti doi and rosogolla, and much more.
What have you been doing since the International Friendlies in March?
The AFC Cup was on schedule till some time back. So I was working out at home and at a nearby football field. My club coach and the National Team coach had provided me with certain fitness routines and I was constantly working on them.
But with the second wave of the pandemic striking, I could not move out. Thereafter, I was confined to my personal gym at my house. From that time, I concentrated on high intensity workouts focussing primarily on strength training. In the evenings I also used to work with the ball on the roof top. But that’s nothing in comparison to hitting the green with the ball.
Has it been an ideal preparation in Doha with a shorter camp?
Longer duration camps always help. Most of the boys came from their respective homes where they were all kind of locked down. Majority of us last played our last competitive match almost two months back. So a longer camp would have helped. But it is what it is.
Footballers nowadays have become extremely health conscious.
The trend is here to stay. Nowadays there are no off-seasons for a footballer. Even during a vacation, we have to make sacrifices.
What kind of?
It’s all about the diet. Even on a vacation Indian footballers don’t eat anything and everything. The mentality – you are what you eat – has sunk in. So no one gives in to the temptation.
When did all of this sink in?
We were educated about a sportsman’s diet during our AIFF Academy days. Post 2015-16 I took it extremely seriously – that’s when the realisation crept in. I read about how Virat Kohli approaches his fitness, his training regime, diet, and how never ever he goes against the roadmap laid down by his personal trainer. Having Sunil-bhai (Chhetri) around helped as with his controlled diet plan, Sunil-bhai’s fitness and performances reached a different level. Both Virat and Sunil-bhai are the pioneers.
I roped in my personal trainer, set up my personal gym at home, and eventually cut my tongue off (laughs).
How tough was that?
You are asking a Bengali how tough it is to stay away from luchi, begun-bhaja, kosha mangsho, mishti doi, rosogolla, and a whole lot of delicacies. It was extremely annoying at the outset. There was a conflict in my own mind. I brought in my own cook and slowly settled down.
My mom, however, was extremely upset with me.
A mother’s heart is never fulfilled till she sees her child eating everything on the plate. Initially, she served me all the delicacies, spicy, tasty. But she was quick to realise that all my sacrifices were turning out to be beneficial for me.
But being a mother she still asks – Rosogolla khabi (Will you have a rosogolla?). But she never forces me anymore. In fact, even my mom cooks a bit differently nowadays.
You are someone who has been equally successful at the club and international level. How do you balance it?
Club football and international football are two separate poles which are extreme apart from each other. Even while playing at the domestic level, you need to keep in mind the intensity and the skill level required at the international football. Every footballer needs to set that target to improve himself. Once we are able to do it collectively, the National team standard will automatically improve.
You have not been a first-choice since the 2019 Asian Cup? How are you adjusting to the role?
Competition has improved me as a player. Different coaches tend to plan and play football differently. As professional players it is our responsibility to adapt, and faster. I feel that I need to give to my coach a bit more. But this is an extremely healthy competition which we all relish. At the end of the day, we are all good friends who are working tirelessly for one objective – to see the Tricolour fluttering high.