‘Brother sacrificed dream so I could play’: Shubho Paul prepares for Bayern Munich adventure

Shubho Paul, who was until a few years ago a barefoot footballer who would go to training grounds on a borrowed cycle, is now set to travel to Bayern Munich to play against U-19 teams in the Bundesliga.

Pressure does not faze Shubho Paul. He was firm when he knew he would be following a dream his brother had to give up for want of money. And he is firm now, when an invitation from German football giants Bayern Munich has been followed by tweets from Chief Ministers and Indian football legends.

The 17-year-old from West Bengal’s Salkia — until a few years ago a barefoot footballer who would use a cycle borrowed from his coach to go play after school — is now preparing for a flight to the Bundesliga champions’ training centre. There, Paul will play against multiple U-19 sides of the German top division, with the eventual aim of signing a senior professional contract with Bayern Munich.

“My family is telling me not to think too much about the trip, about selection into Bayern Munich. They are just telling me to enjoy myself and to keep in mind that I am representing India. But I can tell from their voices that they are very happy,” said Paul, who plays at Sudeva FC, a Delhi-based I-League club.

Paul has been staying at Sudeva FC’s residential facility throughout the pandemic, and it was only on a phone call that he got to convey the news to his family. That phone call would have been special for his elder brother, Raju Paul, who left football 10 years ago because of financial constraints for the family.

“He had to support the family, so he took a job. Our family couldn’t afford the both of us playing,” said Paul.

“It was my brother who was the footballer. I used to knock around smaller balls with the other kids, I played more cricket than football. It was he who motivated me to think about football seriously, who took me to coaches,” he said.

It was a coach in Salkia, Tapan Karmakar, who believed in Paul so much that he lent him his bicycle so that he could come to play. One day soon after, Kolkata football legend Chima Okorie, who was in the area, was so impressed by Paul that he bought him his first football boots.

In 2017, Paul was snapped up by Sudeva FC to play in the U-13 I-League. What happened next is stuff of legend for the Delhi-based club’s owners.

“Paul is a very straightforward person. Before a junior game, we asked him what he wanted to do in the match. He had a simple answer — to score 10 goals. We were a little surprised, but not as surprised as when he scored 13 goals in the match,” said Vijay Haqari, Sudeva FC co-owner.

Paul once scored 58 goals in a span of 12 matches in the U-13 I-League, according to Haqari and Anuj Gupta, the club’s co-owners.

Promoted to the senior I-League team this year, Paul was also given the captain’s arm-band — at the age of 17.

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Led by club legend and World Cup winner Klaus Augenthaler and their coach of international programmes, Christopher Loch, Bayern Munich launched an international talent hunt in March this year to pick 15 players for a ‘World Squad’. This team will play friendly matches in the German pre-season and will train at Bayern Munich for around two weeks.

“I got to know of the talent hunt from a Bayern representative. I prepared a CV for Paul, made a video collection of his performances, and sent it across. In April, they had a call with me and Paul,” said Gupta.

While that call proved decisive, there is another daily call that Shubho Paul credits as a secret to his success.

“My brother and I talk on the phone everyday. He tells me not to stay up late. Now, he is telling me everyday not to take undue pressure of the Bayern trip,” he said.

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But pressure, it seems, has never been a problem.

“Paul, like all superstars, thrives under pressure. He has very straightforward thinking, he enjoys attention and performs best when the stakes are high,” say the Sudeva FC co-owners.

That the stakes have risen is clear from West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee’s tweet on Friday, citing Bengal’s emotional bond with football. Former Indian national team goalkeeper Subrata Paul was also among those who shared news of Paul’s feat.

But Paul is kept humble by a sense of gratitude — towards his coaches at Sudeva FC, his friends at the club who do not let him miss home, to the few people who believed in him — his brother who sacrificed his dreams, his coach Tapan Karmakar, who lent him his bicycle, and Chima Okorie, who bought him his first boots.

“When I spoke to Chima sir about Bayern Munich, he told me he had never thought I would reach this far,” Paul said with a smile.

 

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The ‘World Squad’ will play friendly matches in Mexico later this month before travelling to Munich, where matches are scheduled against Bayern Munich U-19 and other Bundesliga U-19 teams in July. Standout players could be offered a professional contract with Bayern. The project is also going to be made into a six-part documentary, thus possibly opening doors to other clubs around the world as well.

A fan of Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski, Paul’s aim continues to be as clear as when he said he would score 10 goals in a match. “I want to play in the Champions League with Bayern Munich,” he said.

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