He is Indian football’s very own Messiah. He’s 6’2”, came into the football profession quite by chance rather than by impulse, is at his peak and is dynamic, scores goals for fun and bleeds in rays of optimism.
Meet Abhishek Yadav, a shining candle in the altar of Indian football. At a time when football in India and Indian football are gradually stealing up the stairs into the top floor, Abhishek Yadav is very much leading the hunt for glory.
Talking to him on a plethora of aspects ranging from his personal development in the realm of football to his perception on how Indian football can progress is as much pleasurable as informative as yours truly discerned.
As Abhishek so candidly remarked, he never quite thought he would become a footballer until he became one. His obsession commenced at a tender age when he used to play football with his Don Bosco School friends in Matunga. Under the watchful Central Railways chief coach Adip Kenkre, Abhishek groomed into the best among the crop in his school.
“It all started in school”, says Abhishek and the seeds of greatness were sowed there. But it wasn’t until his gradution from high school that Abhishek really began to focus on being a professional footballer for real, which for him is “a big thing”. All this time of his progress, his parents kept on supporting him, a phenomenon that is rare to say the least in the current Indian scenario.
Abhishek says that his “dad was very supportive” and one can appreciate where he is coming from. HN Prasad was a distinguished javelin thrower employed with Central Excise and wanted one of his children to grow into a sportstar. Abhishek’s brother is a pilot, sister a doctor and he has certainly fulfilled his father’s dream.
In a typical fairytale saga, Abhishek’s escalation to the top didn’t come through teeth-grinding, heart-raking youth development project. Instead he threaded it to the top by impressing at school level, then captaining the Mumbai University football team to top honours, thereby demonstrating that raw football passion and fanaticism is at times better than stair-stepping through the youth ranks.
Then along came Mahindra United. Mumbai’s leading club didn’t want to lose the gem that is Abhishek Yadav and lost no time in drafting the then surprised Abhishek. Unfortunately for Abhishek, he was quite young at the time and if-you-are-good-enough-you-are-old-enough maxim didn’t cut ice. He was soon off to Churchill Brothers but very soon made a U-turn and is now with Mumbai FC.
Abhishek has never looked over his shoulders since his big international break knocked on his doors in the LG Cup 2002. That was the competition that India contrived to conquer by beating Vietnam in the final, inducting in the nation’s first major title for 32 heavily limping years. Abhishek emerged as the star of the competition and he himself fondly lapses into a nostalgia for his goal in their 3-0 win over Vietnam.
The conversation then moves onto the former Indian national team coach Stephen Constantine. Abhishek is certainly a massive fan of the Englishman and subtly rues the lack of attention he received from the media when in his last match as India coach, he led them to a 3-2 win over Kuwait in Kuwait. “For me, he was really good,” says Abhishek adding that foreign coaches like Constantine, Bob Houghton and David Booth, who is also his coach at Mumbai FC, import experience and much needed international exposure to the Indian national team.
Abhishek stresses on the significance of preparing in foreign camps like the Portugal camp where Indian national team were involved in ahead of their Nehru Cup adventure. Abhishek feels that such an international exposure strings itself to more chances of playing against bigger and stronger opponents, which is only going to develop Indian football and footballers.
Indeed Abhishek persistently underlines the importance of the media to promote football and “generate interest” and awareness. Abhishek believes that football in India is a big prospect and that the AIFF, players and media have to join hands together on the deck in a “collective effort” to promote the sport an appeal to the people in India.
Abhishek is so much dedicated to the development of football in Indian that he is read to push his children into the sport. Abhishek has a deep and firm respect for the game and observes, "Football has given me whatever identity I have."
Abhishek is certainly one grateful young lad who wants to give back what football has gifted him, a high rock standing out in the ocean, holding his own against the tempestuous sea.