CHENNAI: Born in a modest family on the outskirts of Kolkata, in Sodepur, Subrata Paul was a rebel. He was full of anger, but possessed a determination not many people his age had. He decided at a tender age that football was his true love, and that the sport was the path that he wanted to take.
The first stop in that journey was the Tata Football Academy (TFA) in Jamshedpur. As the story goes, in 1999, Subrata made the journey from the City of Joy, but arrived after trials at TFA had gotten over. Refusing to accept defeat, he slept outside the academy’s gates until he was given a chance. Prove himself he did, being inducted soon after.
That was the start of a remarkable career which has spanned more than 16 years, taking him across the length and breadth of the country.
The 31-year-old played for some of the biggest Indian clubs. Now, life has come full circle for the India goalkeeper. He is back to where it all began, representing Jamshedpur FC in the Indian Super League.
“It has been a long journey with quite a few ups and downs. But I’m happy with where I am now. Only the present matters. Jamshedpur is my present, and I want to help them reach the knockouts,” he tells Express with a steely look, one that Indian football fans have seen over the years. The only visible change is greying hair and a beard.
Controversy has gone hand-in-hand with Subrata. When he was a fresh-faced teenager playing for Mohun Bagan, the first disaster struck. It was in 2004 in the Federation Cup final against Dempo. He rushed out to thwart Brazilian striker Cristiano Junior. A heavy collision ensued, and that took the life of the striker. Many called for a ban. But the youngster survived the clamour, and kept the pursuit of his true love going.
Last year, Subrata’s career was again rocked by a blow. News emerged that he had tested positive for a banned substance (Terbutaline), and he was provisionally suspended by NADA. Critics again bayed for his blood, but ultimately, he was acquitted.
“Challenges are a part of life. You have to keep fighting, and only then will you emerge more stronger. That is what I have been doing. I know where I stand. The truth always prevails. I concentrate on doing my best and leave the rest to god.
“When people say negative things, it means you are doing something good. I encourage criticism. I don’t want to waste my time by responding to it. My football does the talking instead.”
The Arjuna awardee caught the fancy of quite a few foreign clubs for his heroics during the 2011 Asian Cup. His acrobatics against South Korea earned him the nickname of “Spiderman” from international media. And, India will embark on the same journey once again in the 2019 continental competition.
“Stephen Constantine has done a great job and the group is really good. We have good youngsters and experienced campaigners. The real aim should be to ensure that we qualify every time, instead of getting a chance after a long gap. Only then can we say that we have improved.”
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has overtaken him in the race for India’s number one goalkeeper after his experience with Norwegian club Stabaek FC.
Also, India Under-17 goalie Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem has attended trials at Scottish club Motherwell FC. Subrata was a pioneer of sorts in this regard, having tried his luck with Vestsjaelland, RB Leipzig and Vancouver White Caps.
“Gurpreet is reaping the rewards of his hard work. He is really good. Dheeraj has the right age to try his luck abroad. I’m sure he will be successful. I have not given up hope. Before hanging up my boots, I want to play for a European club.”