KOCHI: Duleep Menon is no longer an unknown purveyor of the world’s most popular sport in the football-crazy state. A post-graduate in engineering, the 27-year-old, will no longer have to toil away in nondescript football fields in Kerala.
Having impressed in a practice match against Kerala Blasters FC in the colours of Central Excise in Thrissur last Thursday, the central midfielder has been picked up by the Kochi franchise of the Indian Super League.
It was Sachin Tendulkar, the Blasters’ co-owner, who presented the player on stage, after unveiling the Blasters’ team jersey here on Monday.
“This is the player that our coaches noticed during the practice match,” said Tendulkar, as the player stood beaming beside the biggest name in Indian sport.
Shaking hands with the likes of Tendulkar and former England world cup goalkeeper David James happen only in the dreams of most youngsters. But Duleep has the opportunity to do much more.
“I was overwhelmed,” Duleep told ‘Express’. “I had never expected to meet or talk to someone like Sachin Tendulkar. But today, I was fortunate enough to meet the great man in his room. As I met David before the function, he said I should meet Sachin. He wished me well and said that he had heard that I was a good player. That was a special moment,” he said.
His selection also highlighted the big role the high-profile ISL is envisaged to play in the development of football in the country.
“We will continue to support local talent and will provide a platform for young players,” Tendulkar said.
Duleep, who prefers to play as an attacking midfielder, has been a familiar face in the local football circuit.
Having played for the Kochi-based Central Excise for a couple of seasons, he had enrolled in the University of Manchester for higher studies in 2010 and went on to represent the Manchester University team. “After the completion of my course, I played for Salford City FC (a semi-professional club) for about seven months. It was a fabulous experience. I learnt how to control the flow of the game from central midfield and how to use my physicality,” said Duleep of his tryst with the beautiful game in England.
Those were the specific qualities that left an impression on James, the Blasters’ marquee player-cum-manager and his assistant Trevor Morgan.
“My intention when I came back from England was always to look for opportunities to play in a bigger club in the country. But I never expected that my performance in a practice match would get me a spot in the Kerala Blasters’ team. For that I have to thank all my teammates at Central Excise. The whole team played well that day, restricting them to a solitary goal till the 55th minute,” he said.