Adil Ahmed Khan has had a remarkable career in football. He has been laid low by multiple injuries throughout but the 32-year-old has made a full recovery each time and is probably enjoying his best spell currently.
Adil is currently a first choice in the national team and is an integral part of the Hyderabad FC lineup in the Indian Super League (ISL).
Recognition has come late for the sturdy and versatile defender but it is just reward for his hardwork and persistence.
"Nobody should go through what I underwent. I always pray to God to keep everyone safe for Indian football to come up. If good footballers get injured and don't get to play games, then it's a problem for the country and for the players themselves," he remarked in a chat with Goal .
"Injuries are always a struggle although it's part and parcel of any sport. Even if you get injured, just work on yourself, don't give up. Believe in yourself and you will be back stronger," the Goan added.
Khan's first steps in football were at his hometown local club Verna Sports Club from where he donned the Vasco SC shirt at junior level before getting enrolled into the Sesa Football Academy in 2003.
"It began with inter-ward and inter-village football for me. We used to place bets with other wards and organise awards. Once, one of my neighbours (Jack Dourado) introduced me to the coach (Jose Sousa) of the Verna Sports Club U-15 team when I was 12. Then when I was 13, Jude Barreto called me to join the Vasco U-15," he recalled.
"From there, I got a call for the U-16 Goa Nationals. Augustin Dias was the coach. That's when I met a boy from Sesa Football Academy and got to know about them."
Among Adil's batch-mates that had the likes of Gabriel Fernandes, Pratesh Shirodkar, Augustin Fernandes, Anthony D'Souza and Sidroy Afonso, Khan is the only one currently plying his trade in the Indian Super League (ISL) - the current top tier of Indian football.
In his five years at Sesa, he explained, "We were in the third division when I started [playing for the first team]. We qualified in every year - second division, first division, played for two years in the first division and then in my last year there (2007-08), we qualified for the Goa Professional League."
The curse of injuries begins
Adil went under the knife for the first time in 2007 but made a successful return to help Sesa FA reach the elite league in Goa. However, he opted to move up a notch to the I-League with Sporting Clube de Goa while fate had something else in store for him.
"Although Sesa had qualified for the Goa Professional League, I didn't stay because I wanted to play in the I-League. They (Sesa) were giving me a good offer and also offered to make me the captain but I was thinking of the I-League instead of playing in the Goa League for another two-to-three years," he explained.
"When I was injured (recurrence of knee injury post surgery), Sporting Goa manager (Angelo Albuqureque) told me to look for another club. But when I played with (then Sporting junior team coach Levino) Anthony Pereira for the U-16 nationals and did well there, that's when he (Pereira) spoke to the boss (Peter Vaz) and my contract was renewed [in 2010]."
After a couple of seasons in the Goa league and in tournaments like Durand Cup, Adil went on to make his I-League debut in the 2010-11 season and earned himself another two years with the Flaming Oranje before a big money move to Mohun Bagan in 2013.
"When I moved to Mohun Bagan, it didn't work for me. The weather in Kolkata didn't agree with me and I left mid-season (December 2013) and I was without a club for the next eight months. I had a bad ankle injury and played with the same injury for two matches and worsened it. I should have taken rest but I forced myself to play, spoiled it and couldn't make it again. It was difficult for me to come back," he lamented.
Back in Goa, Dempo offered him trials.
"They wanted to sign me but there were very few matches left in the season. They told me to come for the next season but it was too far for me to travel without an income at the time. I told (then) coach Arthur Papas that I would do my own training."
The 'worst' decision
"Bengaluru FC was offering to sign me, Mumbai FC wanted me. Actually, it was the time when I was on trials at Dempo and by then the transfer window got over. When I was in talks with Dempo, I thought it would be good to play in Goa as Dempo was a top team that time.
"Ashley Westwood and Pradhyum Reddy (former Bengaluru coach and assistant, respectively) were interested in signing me but I didn't feel like going out of Goa. It was my worst decision. If I had to sign for Bengaluru, I would have won so many trophies by now and I was feeling so bad that they had offered me. They (Bengaluru) told me to come and that they will take care of my injury and play whenever you are fit.
"I wasted my year at that time but it also gave me some time towards recovery and get my own fitness back on track, and luckily ISL started. There was a draft but my name was not on the draft because they thought I was still contracted with Mohun Bagan. I would thank Lenny (Rodrigues) for that (getting my name being included in Indian players draft)."
Thanks to Lenny Rodrigues
"Once, when I had met Lenny, he told me that his name is the draft and asked me if mine was. I said no, as I didn't know anything about the draft. That time (before the inaugural edition of the ISL), only free agents were included in the draft and they (the league) thought I was contracted with Mohun Bagan. So Lenny spoke to an official and told him about me after which I was included in the draft," Khan revealed.
"I started with a very meager amount, even lesser than what Bengaluru FC was offering, but I was lucky to make my come-back with Delhi Dynamos (now Odisha FC) in the ISL."
After managing to muster seven appearances under Dutch manager Harm van Veldhoven in the inaugural edition of the ISL, he was struck by another season-ending injury just as he was about to play on loan with Bharat FC (now disbanded) in the I-League.
"They (Bharat FC) had a good plan. They were thinking of building a team like Bengaluru FC and all but it didn't work. I got injured right in the beginning of the season when we were playing a practice match. January 4th, 2015 - my left ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) got torn - I still remember the date," Khan brought to mind.
"When I had my first surgery in 2007, I was with Sesa football academy and they took care of me and I made a comeback in one year. When I got injured at Bharat FC, my contract got over and they wanted to extend my contract but the club shut down. That's why I struggled a lot during that injury - because I had no club."
The 'best' decision
"By the time I got fit, the (2015-16) season was already getting over and that's when I started training with Salgaocar. I am very thankful that they gave me an opportunity to train with them. Actually, the coach (Malcolm Thompson) wanted to sign me there but he also got sacked. So I couldn't make it to the Salgaocar squad and there was no more option to go anywhere because the season was getting over.
"That's when I decided to go and play for a second division club at Lonestar Kashmir (on a three-month deal). That was the best decision of my career. And that's when it (the comeback) started. Dempo was playing in the second division and they called me even though they were doubtful whether they will be playing in the I-League or not back then. Salgaocar and Churchill (Brothers) were also offering me to play in the Goa Professional League.
'Nearly joined FC Goa'
"I played for Dempo for five months and from there, luckily Churchill got their team back (re-instated) in the I-League and I got a chance to play," Khan explained.
He garnered consistent game time with both Dempo and Churchill during his time with the clubs and that opened the door for his comeback to the ISL with FC Pune City (now Hyderabad FC).
He further disclosed, "If FC Pune City hadn't to pick me, I think FC Goa was ready to pick me because coach Derrick (Pereira) had already told me that he would sign me there but I was already picked by FC Pune City. I started playing for FC Pune City and from there, Hyderabad FC now."
Having made his India senior team debut in an international friendly during the reign of Savio Medeira in 2012, Adil battled through his injuries and attended a national team camp under former coach Wim Koevermans in 2015 before another injury kept him out of the national team set-up. Seven years later he made a comeback in the 2019 King's Cup in Thailand under current India coach Igor Stimac.
"I just hope I don't get any more injuries now. I just want to play as many matches and seasons as I can. Being an a senior player now, I have to always be on my toes as there is a lot of competition in every position you play - may it be in the ISL, (Indian) national team or even in the I-League. One more injury and you're out again," Khan said.