When India hosted the Fifa U-17 World Cup two years ago, Amarjeet Mishra failed to find a place in Luis Norton de Matos’ final 21-man squad. He was part of the multiple exposure trips and training sessions with de Matos’ national team, but he eventually failed to make the cut.
It was that very summer during an exposure trip to Portugal, that Mishra had made up his mind to play for a professional club in the Iberian country.
But when the young Indian defender arrived on Portuguese shores in 2017, a strange turn of events unfolded. A Minerva Punjab academy graduate, Mishra first signed for third-division side Sociedade União 1º Dezembro in 2017 but could not play matches until he was officially eighteen as per Fifa’s transfer regulations for minors.
When he finally satisfied the age limit, opportunities were hard to come by. Determined to fulfill his European dream, the Uttar Pradesh-born full-back left his old club and signed up for Estrela’s junior team, one of the oldest clubs in Portugal. But even in the new team, he found it tough to begin with.
“The first year I arrived here, I did not play quite well because it was in my mind that I am from India and that I won’t be able to match the players here,” Mishra told Scroll.in.
“Here the games get very competitive and physical. You are expected to show some individuality on the ball. The advantage is that if you can play in such circumstances then you are prepared to play at the higher level,” he said.
His career in Portugal got a fresh boost after he penned a one-year contract with the senior team of second-division side CD Estrela, a few weeks ago.
Estrela no longer competes in the first division but are still known to supply their talent to top division teams like Benfica and FC Porto with players like Bebe, Xavier Abel and former Chelsea goalkeeper Hilario playing for them at one point of time.
“If I play in the second or third division here, I won’t get paid as handsomely as an Indian Super League contract. There is no money here except in the first division [Primeira Liga],” he said.
“But the thought is clear in my mind that I don’t want to make money. And if I play here for two-three years, that’s a long-term investment even though there’s no financial benefit,” he revealed.
Back home in Uttar Pradesh, Mishra’s father works as a clerk in the Sinchai Vibhag (water department). However, the 19-year-old defender said his father would never think twice about buying him expensive football shoes as it would help him in achieving his dreams.
“We still have a lot of financial problems but my father always supported me. I keep asking my father whether I should come back to India and give a trial at any ISL club.
“In India, I will be paid better even if I sit on the bench and I’ll have money to look after them. Par woh bole nahi, jis kaam ke liye gaye ho woh karke aao. Paise nahi chahiye. [But he said no, complete the work that you have gone abroad for and return back. We don’t need the money],” he revealed.
Dealing with rejection
His exclusion from the U-17 World Cup squad was another life-changing lesson for him. Missing out on the opportunity to play in such a big event would dishearten any youngster but Mishra did not dwell on it.
“My teammates [who too were excluded] were usually crying but I never took the rejection personally. My parents have always made me believe that whatever happens, happens for the best. I believe if I did not get rejected then I wouldn’t have landed here,” he said.
Apart from Mishra, many other Indian footballers have gone on to sign up for foreign clubs in the past. But the demands of the game in an alien country, adapting to severe conditions and cut-throat competition make it a tough challenge for any local player.
“Many of my friends from the U-17 World Cup team want to play in Europe. They all are trying but the problem is that they already have so much name and fame in India and even get paid so well. But if you try and move to any lower division club in Europe, it becomes difficult to survive and fight for yourself. The plus side of moving abroad at a young age is that you get more opportunities. Now is the time,” he said.
If more youngsters such as Mishra are ready to leave lucrative contracts back home and prove their mettle abroad, someday a top European club may come calling for an Indian starlet.
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