Rohit Danu was never into football. As a kid, he hardly watched any match on television and seldom kicked a football. So, what made Danu take up the sport?
"I was inspired by my elder brother, Naveen. I never used to play football, but he was very much into the game. He could not become a footballer as he is into academics. However, he wanted to live his dreams through me.
"I started training under Neeraj Pandey. I learnt the basics of football from him. Even simple things like passing and how to receive the ball. And my brother also helped me with my training," revealed Danu to Goal.
The teenager became the youngest player to score a goal in the I-League at 16 years, five months and 27 days when he found the net against Aizawl after coming on from the bench.
India U16 coach Bibiano Fernandes recalls interacting with the then 14-year-old in the U-14 festival in Tajikistan in 2016. Bitan Singh was the coach of the young Indian side and Bibiano was to take over the bunch of kids who would soon be participating in the U-16 category. At that time, Danu was a student at the Sports Authority of India (SAI), Delhi.
However, the teenager did not turn up for the trials in Bhopal that year. It was not until some time when he personally contacted Bibiano and requested to take him under his wing.
Eventually, Danu joined the rest of the youngsters in the former Sporting Goa legend's squad as he took over as the U-16 coach.
Bibiano did foresee a bright future in the youngster but at that time, he was just any other ordinary player. Danu improved at an impressive rate under his new coach. Bibiano felt that the 16-year-old boasted of certain qualities that sets him apart from the crowd.
“He’s a great player with a really good personality and that counts a lot. He is like a leader who pushes the team. That’s what I like about him. He is also intelligent and has a good touch. He is one for the future” he exclaimed.
"Bibiano Sir is my first coach in a professional setup. We went to Tajikistan and I learnt a lot from him. I was under his wings for the majority of my developmental phase," said Danu.
But the journey was not easy for the Uttarakhand-born player. An AIFF Elite Academy graduate, he had his own share of heartbreaks in the build-up to this record. Injuries thwarted the youngster from participating in a major tournament until he flew to Uzbekistan for the AFC U23 qualifiers.
Danu was ruled out of the U17 World Cup in 2017 due to an ankle injury. And the youngster had initial setbacks with Indian Arrows as well, owing to a niggling back injury.
But once he started playing, he put in a string of impressive displays scoring four goals in just five matches.
"Playing in I-League is one of the best things to happen to me. It was a great experience. I used to watch I-League on TV but I never thought I would get to play against those big teams. They might take us loosely because of our age but that would not be right. If they play tough, we have the capability to respond in equal measure. Floyd Sir (Pinto) always tells us that we should fight until the end. He has motivated me a lot throughout the season."
A Manchester City fan, Danu dreams that he would not only play for the senior national team but also take India to new heights in world football.
"If the coach gives me a chance then I will prove that I am no less and I have the capability to play at this stage. I will give my best and hope we win," stated the forward with resolve.