CHENNAI: `41 lakh! As Anas Edathodika, dressed in a shiny tuxedo that was meant to show the world that he was no longer just an I-League player, listened to the auctioneer excitedly announce the sum that he was now worth, his mind must have wandered back to when someone first quoted a price for his services. It was `50 and it was twelve years ago.
“I was just in eleventh standard and was going to play my first ‘sevens’ game in Malappuram. That was how much I was going to get paid. But the money did not matter then. I just wanted to play,” Anas remembers.
Much has happened in the years that went by. If his net worth has had five zeroes added to them, the development of his skills on the field has been even more exponential. Such has been the performances of the lanky lad from Kondotty (in Kerala’s Malappuram district) this season, that Roberto Carlos, himself part of some of the finest defensive lines ever for Brazil and Real Madrid, was unable to fathom how he had not made the Indian national team yet. The journey to prominence though has been anything but a smooth ride.
Hard times have perhaps produced more footballers than any academy in the world, as countless Brazilians from poverty-stricken favellas would no doubt testify. Anas is another from that long production line. The son of a car driver, Anas’ world fell apart just as it was coming together. “When I was in eleventh standard, my brother was diagnosed with blood cancer. It had been just six months since his marriage. The cost of the treatment was too much for us. It has been eleven years since he died,” Anas says.
It was around the same time that Anas took to driving autos to make both ends meet. “I started out driving autos and then worked as a cleaner in a jeep. Then for some time, I worked in a bus. Around this time, I had dreams of going to the Middle East and earning some money. Nothing ever came of it.”
But Anas soon got to make a journey of a different kind, one that would change his life forever. A coach of his suggested that he try out for Mumbai FC, then playing in the I-League second division. He caught the eye of their then-coach David Booth and was given a one-year contract. The road trip that started in Mumbai that day passed through Pune and has now halted in Delhi.
“Playing in the ISL for Delhi Dynamos, alongside the likes of Carlos, (Florent) Malouda and (John Arne) Riise is a dream come true. Malouda, in particular, is my favourite in the team. He knows how to motivate you and keeps telling you things, like how to train and how to better yourself as a player. He has played against some of the best defenders in the world and knows what is special about them. And he has no problems in passing on that knowledge to you.”
One of the best in the I-League for Pune FC and now the rock at the back for Delhi Dynamos, one would have expected the 28-year-old to have a wealth of international experience. But he is yet to worm his way into the plans of national coach Stephen Constantine. “Obviously I would love to play for India. But then each coach has his preferences. And it is not as if the current defenders are bad. (Sandesh) Jhingan is one of my favourite players and I try watch whenever he plays. Arnab (Mondal) and Augustine Fernandes are very good players too. But hopefully if I carry on playing well, my chance will come.”