From a very young age, Akash Mishra wanted to do something different to ensure he didn’t have to live his entire life in his village. His passion for football took him to Germany. He is now all set to go places
“I did not want to spend my entire life in one place. Near my house, there was a playground. The boys playing there were given opportunities to go to various places in the country. So, I also started dreaming of becoming a sportsperson,” said Akash Mishra.
The 18-year-old is now well on his way to becoming an established football player, having trained in Germany for three years.
Akash, a six-footer and a right full-back, is a junior member of Indian Arrows, a team that plays in one of India’s premier leagues, the I-League. He was a part of the Indian team that won the Under-18 South Asian Football Championship (SAF Cup) in September 2019, scoring two goals besides being stellar in defence.
Akash hails from Sheikhuipyra village in the Balrampur district of Uttar Pradesh. His father is a farmer, who, like most farmers in the region, primarily grows sugarcane. As a child, Akash assisted his father in farming. But, the will to do something different and his passion for the game now has him knocking on the doors of national football.
“Half of my day would go into farming. I, with my cousins from a joint family, would assist my father and uncles in the fields. But I would somehow make time for sports. Like other boys in India, I too had set out to become a cricketer, but the competition was stiff in cricket. When I was 11-12 years of age, I realised if I were to do something different, I would have to take up some other sport than cricket. So, I moved to football,” said Akash, who considers Spain and Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos as his idol.
“In the beginning, my family dissuaded me from playing football,” said Akash. “They told me to concentrate on my studies. Our environment was such. Every time, there was only talk of studies. The kids around me spent their days in school and evenings in coaching with no time for sports,” he said. “That is why we could never manage to form a complete team. Only 8-10 among us would turn up regularly to play football. However, it did not discourage us. My grandfather and coach were always by my side. They convinced my parents that I could become a good footballer. Thus started my journey in sports.”
Akash said he struggled a lot in his early days to become a footballer. “My father is an ordinary farmer. Our family often faced financial difficulties. Often, he didn’t even have enough money to buy me shoes. But he never let me feel it. Whenever I requested for something, he would provide me with it, even if he had to borrow from neighbours. He thought I wouldn’t know about it but my grandpa used to keep me informed so that I may be aware of my responsibilities.”
As a child, Akash wouldn’t get to watch football matches. “There was a single TV set for a family of 15. It was only with great difficulty that I would able to watch programmes of my choice. I had to stay awake late at night to watch football matches along with my cousin Kshitij. We used to remain awake long after everyone in the family had gone to sleep to watch the English Premier League and Champions League.”
Akash’s life changed when he got an opportunity to go to Germany and train there for three years following a talent search competition in 2014. “I had gone to Lucknow to play in a tournament that didn’t go well for me and my team; we were out long before the finals. But the organisers had taken the name, address and phone number of each player. About three months after the tournament, I received a call from U Sports team offering to send me to Germany for training.” U Sports is a sports business company in India.
Akash said he and his family couldn’t believe the offer and felt it was a fraud call. However, a few days later, a team from U-Sports visited the village and assured his family that he had indeed been selected for training in Germany.
“My family had never allowed me to go to Lucknow on my own. When I got selected for Germany, I had little hope that they would let me go. But my grandfather and coach talked to my family, telling them that once I left for Germany, things would be easier for me. This convinced my family,” said Akash.
Akash said he got to learn a lot in Germany. “The football knowledge I received in the village was limited. My game developed in Germany,” he said. It was in Germany that he came to know his best position and how to play in it. He learned several skills, technique and game plans. Akash said Indian players were provided with Indian coaches so that the players faced no problem in communication.
After returning from Germany, Akash got selected for the India Under-18 team. For him, this was a childhood dream come true. “When you take to the field wearing the Indian jersey with the national anthem being sung, it is a totally different feeling, which cannot be put in words. It can only be felt or lived. I am fortunate that I got a chance to experience it at a young age.”
Soon after his training in Germany, he landed an opportunity to play first for the India Under-18 team and then joined the junior team of Indian Arrows.
Based on his experience, Akash has some advice for players with rural background. “The road for Indian, especially UP, players, is difficult indeed. Rural areas do not have adequate facilities for coaching, training and other resources. They (players in rural areas) do not come to know about trials. But if one is committed to one’s aim and consistently works hard, many avenues open up.”