CHENNAI:As he picked up his phone to tell his family about how he was going to play in the glitzy Indian Super League next year, Michael Soosairaj’s mind must have harked back to when he first left them to pursue his football dreams. He had first arrived in Chennai as a teenager, to complete his schooling. Now he was leaving it as one of the most talkedabout footballers in the country, a few good displays away from a national team call-up. After a stellar season in the I-League with Chennai City FC, Soosairaj was offered `25 lakh for his services by ISL outfit Jamshedpur FC.
The 23-year-old, who left his native Thoothoor to complete his high-schooling and undergraduate education at the Madras Christian College, is excited about this new chapter in his life, but, nevertheless, feels a pang of nostalgia for everything that he is leaving behind. In short, from a `60,000 wannabe footballer in Chennai league Soosairaj has turned into a `25 lakh star in ISL. “When I went back home this time, it was like some important person had come visiting,” he laughs. “Football is huge in Thoothoor, there is hardly anyone who doesn’t play it. I have three other brothers (Regin, Jagan and Robin) who all played in the Chennai Senior Division. But I am the first footballer from here to make it to the ISL. So everyone is really excited. My parents have been waiting for me to come home ever since they first heard the news that I had received an offer. “But I will miss Chennai.
Everything I have now came to me here.” He is grateful to his teachers at MCC too as they were supportive. “They knew that I was playing really well, so they told me that I could take as much time out as I wanted to practice, as long as I came back and wrote my exams. I completed my degree this year,” he says. Soosairaj never had the life of a normal college student — he was far too busy playing. “I was playing Senior Division Football, then Santosh Trophy, Inter-University Football and finally I-League,” he says. “So it is not like I had too much time to roam around with friends. But I did have a lot of fun. I stayed at the college hostel in Tambaram and my friends and I used to visit the Marina Beach whenever we had time and watch movies at the malls.” Soosairaj’s first steps in professional football happened when he had just joined the MCC. He was given a chance to play for Chennai Senior Division team Arrows FC.
A comparison of the money he was making then to what Jamshedpur have offered him shows how far he has come. “My first year in the Chennai Senior Division, I was given around `60,000, wages, travelling allowance, and everything included. That would have come down to a few thousand rupees for every game,” he says. With Jamshedpur, he will now be earning lakhs every month, a sum that will go up further should he progress as expected and make the national team. Before he leaves the city for his Jamshedpur stint, Soosairaj was supposed to have one final Chennai summer, playing the Senior Division, which started on Monday, with Chennai City FC. But that was not to be. “I actually wanted to play the Senior Division with Chennai City FC to repay everything that they have done for me. They were the team that believed in me and gave me the chance to show that I had what it takes to play at the highest level. But Jamshedpur asked me if I could skip the tournament as they did not want me to get injured ahead of the next season. So I could not play. But one day, I will come back here and play again,” he says.