Mehrajuddin Wadoo, the first player from Jammu and Kashmir to make it big in Indian football, feels the future is bright for players from the troubled state.
Wadoo, 34, hung up his boots last year after playing with Mumbai City FC in the Indian Super League (ISL). The defender took to coaching post his playing career and is currently completing his AFC ‘A’ license. Wadoo then reunited with FC Pune City as the head coach for their Under-18 team. Mehraj will be joined by Ramesh Bista, who is also completing his AFC ‘A’ license programme.
The former India player, who launched a State Football Academy in Srinagar and is overseeing it, said his main aim is to make Kashmir a footballing hub in the near future. Elaborating on his plans, Wadoo said, “See, we have started with Srinagar. But there are 22 districts in Jammu and Kashmir.
Some of them are remote areas. But we need to go to every corner of the state. The idea is spread football among more people. Right now, we have about 5,000 kids registered with SFA, but our target is 50,000 within the next year.”
However, lack of football turfs is hindering the growth of the sport in the state. But Wadoo said the federation and stakeholders are working towards increasing the number of turf grounds in Kashmir. “At this moment, the only ground with an astroturf is in Srinagar, where Real Kashmir will play their I-League matches.
As the head coach of FC Pune City Under-18 team, will Wadoo invite kids from J&K to train under him? The 34-year-old sounded affirmative. “Of course, I will encourage them. In our state, there is a lot of talent and I will try not to waste any of it. FC Pune City have the best academy and youth development setup in the country.
One of India's most illustrious players, Mehrajuddin Wadoo is returning to FC Pune City as the Head Coach of the U-18 team to help brighten the future of club and country. pic.twitter.com/1lRVDqDmYC
— FC Pune City (@FCPuneCity) October 10, 2018
Already, there is a guy (Ashique Kuruniyan) playing for the national team. A lot more will come out in the near future. So, I will train as many students as I can from my state, and let them play in the ISL and the national team,” said Wadoo, who is the only player from Kashmir to don the Indian jersey.
Wadoo, who has played for both East Bengal and Mohun Bagan, said he still follows the Kolkata Derby. “How can I not? It’s one of the best matches of the country. Thousands of people come to the ground to watch the match. I have played this match before for both the clubs and know how the atmosphere is. I have not been to Kolkata for long but I’m looking forward to going there and watching a Derby from the gallery,” said Mehrajuddin.
India will face China on Saturday in Suzhou near Shanghai and Wadoo, who has played 33 matches for the country, feels the match is going to be crucial for the visiting country ahead of the 2019 Asian Cup. “India have improved a lot over the last few years. Qualifying for the 2019 Asian Cup is a great achievement. We should be proud.