CCFC player Ajith speaks about journey from city streets to Nehru Stadium

Chennai City Football Club (CCFC) made us proud by finishing as the winner of I-League this season. Holding fort on the defence line for namma team was 22-year-old Ajith Kumar from Thirumangalam, who recently rejected offers from ISL teams to stick with CCFC and learn.

For the football illiterate, the I-League is the Ranji Trophy equivalent of football and ISL is like the IPL. Ajit Kumar was a vital cog in CCFC’s maiden title triumph this season playing as the left back for the full 90 minutes in all 20 games, save one (substituted in 86th minute). Speaking to News Today, Ajith shares thoughts about his games with CCFC and his journey to become a professional footballer.

Ajith says he has been playing football since 8th std. ‘”The chance to play at a professional level arrived last year when I was selected in the CCFC trials. I was a mid-fielder before and a right-foot strong player. Coach Akbar Nawaz saw me play left back in a one-off practice match and showed confidence that I would do well in this position.

In professional football, you are required to play where the team demands and the coach gave me the chance to start in main playing-11.’” In Chennai’s first match against Indian Arrows, Ajith admits that he was a bundle of nerves and made critical mistakes. ‘”I didn’’t know much about professional football. I made critical errors like leaving my defence line and aggressively overlap and move forward.”

But Ajith was a quick learner. Match by match he gained experience. He said, ‘I started correcting my mistakes from the very first match by watching videos and analysing my performance. This was in addition to the team analysis. “I realised that if I miss a cross while overlapping, it gives the opponent a chance to counter-attack. I made sure not to make the mistake in the next game.’”

The professional Spanish footballers in CCFC also helped iron out Ajith’s flaws and he started learning from wherever he could and whoever would teach him. ‘The experience of foreign players in the team was at another level. “I was friends with everyone and learned valuable lessons,”’ says Ajith. ‘”For instance, I learnt how to cover a man and how much distance to keep from Roberto Eslava. Néstor Gordillo taught me accuracy and not power is much needed. I learned when and where to play the long ball from Sandro Rodrí­guez. Néstor, Eslava, Sandro are in the defence line with me and I combine with them for my gameplay,’” he explained.

All this effort to work on his game bore fruit for Ajith as he executed perfectly what he learned to get the Hero of the Match award in a game against Kerala Gokulam Football Club. And, in a match against Bengaluru FC, the way Ajith refused to give even an inch to opponent forward Udanta Singh, an Indian footballer, impressed everyone.

Ajith also stressed on the impact CCFC coach Akbar Nawaz’s confidence in him that has positively helped his gameplay. In fact, the coach even named Ajith as a future India player in an interview. ‘To get a name from him is a huge thing. “I have tried to do justice to the trust he has placed in me and I will continue to do so,”’ he said.

Ajith has a message for youngsters and budding footballers. He says, ‘”In my first year in college, I wasn’’t even selected to represent the university team. But I grabbed my chance and proved myself in CCFC trials to be where I am. So, don’t let go of the chances and keep trying.’” You can wish Ajith at 88254 27270.

A Harsha Vardhan