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The world at her feet

Brishti Bagchi, the first footballer to be selected for professional trials in Spain, speaks exclusively to Patriot about her foot balling journey and the condition of Indian women’s football

Brishti Bagchi, a 25-year-old footballer hailing from Bengaluru, made history as she was selected for the final trials for the reserve side of Madrid Club de Futbol Femenino, a side that plays in the first division of the Spanish Women’s La Liga — one of the most prestigious women’s football leagues in Europe.

She is the first Indian woman to go for trial for the Spanish league, and if selected will go on to represent one of the best sides in the league. Currently playing as a striker for Indian Women’s League side Bangalore United FC, Bagchi speaks exclusively to Patriot about her journey in football, her historic achievement, and the condition of women’s football in India.

How did you start playing football?

I was seven years old when I discovered my passion for football. I was trying my hand at different sports but it was with the ball at my feet that I was most comfortable. I represented the school at various tournaments. It was my school authorities that informed my parents that I was special and they then enrolled me to a football academy. That is how my journey started.

Tell us how it went after that.

When I was about nine years old, I was selected to play for the Sports Authority of India (SAI) camp in Bengaluru. Then I played for Karnataka as I rose through the ranks. I played for the junior level and then proceeded to play at the senior level by the time I was finishing school, and even got selected in the national camp.

I wanted to pursue my career in both academics and sports, and since I would get ample opportunity to do both in the US, I applied for various universities in the country, and then I got invited for a trial at the Oklahoma City University. I stayed there for six years, and played for OCU and later North Texas University. I also got an opportunity to play for Dallas City FC  B, a team which play in the Women’s Soccer Premier League. In the midst of this, I also completed my graduation in Kinesiology.

It was in the US that coaches from Spain spotted me and invited me to train at the Madrid CFF, where I trained for a month under the evaluation of David Arroyo, a UEFA A-licensed coach. He saw potential in me and invited me to a trial, after passing which I could play professionally for the team in the Women’s La Liga.

Have your parents and family been supportive?

They have been extremely supportive. My parents are both academicians, and they naturally wanted me to pursue academics, but seeing my passion for football they supported me in what I did, both mentally and financially. They are both passionate about their respective fields, and hence understood my passion for football.

You are the first Indian to go for trials in La Liga. How does it feel?

It still feels a bit unreal, to be honest. When I went for my one-month training, I saw many international stars playing right in front of me. So joining them in training for the trials this time around is an experience I am looking forward to. I really hope I get selected in the team, and even if God forbid I don’t, then I will bring back all the nuances and tactics that I have learnt there into the national setup and help improve the game in the country.

Can you tell us a little about the fundraiser you organised on the internet?

There is no funding in women’s football here in India. The Spanish people will organize my trials, and that’s it. My travel, lodging and food expenses are all on me. My expenses in Spain will come around Rs 15 lakhs. So, I decided to organize a crowd funding campaign so that donations can cover my expenses. So far, I have raised around Rs 3.5 lakhs, and need to raise the amount by July end when I go for trials. I am also looking for private companies to sponsor me.

What is your opinion of the current state of Indian women’s football?

It’s really fun to watch, and it has improved a lot in the six years that I left India. But we really need more comprehensive league setup, and more players’ access to these leagues. This team (Bangalore United FC) came together just one week before the IWL started. I think our leagues should be round the year, so that players train and be match-ready for the whole year, rather than just a month or two’s worth of league action. But yes, I am happy to see that the setup has improved since I left India.

Be it you or Aditi Chauhan, Indian women have always made inroads in premier European leagues than men. Do you think our female footballers get the recognition they deserve?

Not at all. Not even close to the men. I think we have an incredible pool of talent, but the players just don’t get the highlight or the recognition that they deserve. These girls deserved support and attention, and this is why I feel that lot of Indian women drop out of the game — because nobody is giving them the adulation they deserve.

You have played in the US. How different is their approach towards women’s football than India?

Like I said, they had more leagues and people had access to the game more than here in India. I had access to so much training and so many training facilities in the US. As soon as I come here, I have to travel for two hours just for a practice session since there are no training facilities nearby, and then I have to travel again for one hour to a gym just to get my strength and conditioning done.

Who is your footballing idol?

I was always fascinated by Ronaldinho’s style of play and he was one of the reasons I wanted to become a footballer.

Any message for young girls who aspire to be footballers and succeed like you?

Don’t give up. If you love the game enough, just go at it, because one day people will see the potential in you and you will go on to achieve success in life if you have the drive.