CHENNAI: It was all going so well for Dhanpal Ganesh just four months ago. After his rise from the slums of Chennai, an impressive I-League campaign with Pune FC had led to a call-up to new India coach Stephen Constantine’s first ever India squad that was to take on Nepal in the World Cup qualifiers play-offs. By September, he was a starter for the national team, Constantine’s go-to man in midfield. And the icing on the cake came when he was picked by Chennaiyin FC in the Indian Super League draft, meaning he was set to play at the JN Stadium. Things couldn’t possibly be brighter!
And then, as unexpected as it was swift, things began to go wrong for the 24-year-old. His knee gave way just minutes into the match against Iran, scans later revealing he had been struck with the dreaded Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) curse. That injury ruled him out of the entire ISL and relegated him to hanging around the sidelines as his team lifted the title. And then he was forced to sit at home and watch on the telly as Constantine’s wards triumphed in the SAFF Cup on home soil. There was no question that if he had been fit, he would have been there in Thiruvananthapuram, kissing that trophy alongside Sunil Chhetri & Co.
But now Ganesh has a different problem to contend with — a more existential one than what has been thrown at him over the past few months. Chennaiyin FC, after winning the title, will only be coming together when the next season of ISL looms. His club Pune FC has pulled out of the I-League and ceased first-team operations. Ganesh has just completed an ACL surgery — one that requires rigourous physiotherapy to recover from. Is he supposed to do it, sitting at home?
“I’ve asked to train with the Pune FC U-19s as well as India U-19s. I’m yet to get confirmation from either. So as of now, I don’t know how I’m going to complete my rehabilitation,” says Ganesh. But should a footballer of Ganesh’s calibre be looking to continue his rehabilitation in a youth team set-up. “How will I find a new I-League club when I’m injured?” he asks.
“I have started to jog slowly. My doctor has told me to take it slow as there was both ligament and meniscus (cartilage) damage. But I am focussed on getting back to full fitness in three months. I am targetting the March World Cup qualifiers.” But in between trying to sound bullish, Ganesh involuntarily lapses into doubt. “But I do realise that if I do it alone, there will be little benefit. I need to find a team.”
Ganesh’s situation — and indeed the way he approaches it — perhaps best exemplifies the lack of a support system for an Indian footballer today, especially when out of the spotlight. When informed that an article on his travails is coming out, his response is: “Is it such a big deal?” One of India’s brightest hopes, one of the best footballers of the I-League season past and somebody who had nailed down a starting spot in the national team is sitting at home without means to recover from a serious injury. If that is not a big deal, then what is?