Tuff Questions With The Only Indian Footballer Playing In Europe, Abneet Bharti

Rohit Ganguly  |  Tuff-Questions  |  6 Months Ago

In a fascinating opportunity, Jersey Football Magazine got up close and personal with one of the most sensational Indian wonderkids, Abneet Bharti. Abneet was a major influence at his previous club, Real Valladoid and was invited to train at illustrious German clubs like R.S.C. Anderlecht, Eintracht Frankfurt, TSV 1860 Munich, SV Darmstadt 98.


Despite receiving rigorous trainings for 12 days at the club, he could not materialise a move to Germany due to FIFA’s current regulations of transferring a minor to a European club. With all the red-tape of FIFA finally falling into place, Abneet Bharti has successfully notched up a move to Portuguese club, Sport Uniao Sintrense during the last days of the winter transfer window in 2017. He is currently one of the most dependable defenders and is a towering monster in the Portuguese rearguard. This Portuguese also makes the Delhi-boy the only Indian footballer currently on an outing with any European top division.  The excerpts of the interview are here:


Jersey: We would like to know about your childhood, Abneet. How did you get into football?

Abneet: Actually, I started playing football when I was in Delhi. It was Shastri FC. It was not a proper football club though but it began there. They had trainings on my school pitch. I liked football. I was living in a place where football is the main sport. It was the financial part which inspired me to take up the game more. Now my family is better of course, however, then it was a normal middle class family and in the end of the month they became a bit lower family (chuckles). Football was easy. You can play anywhere. You just need a ball. It was nothing special then. I just started playing and I liked it. I used to play earlier when I was in Delhi but then I started training properly, like three or four times a week. That is how it started, my first interaction with football.”


Jersey: And What followed?

Abneet: I was definitely a lot better for that level. However, I still did not have in mind about this being the serious thing that I wanted to do. I was just doing normal things like going to school and playing football. Then my father got transferred to Singapore for his job. At that time I was just playing in a local neighbourhood academy. It was nothing fancy. Call it a club or academy, anything that pleases you. After that the assistant coach of Geylang International FC saw me playing and he asked me to come for trials in the youth team of the club. I was very skinny at that time. I used to play as a winger or as a striker or any attacking position. I was just 13 that time.


Jersey: Were you expecting anything of that sort?

Abneet: I was just playing. When I moved to Singapore, I wanted to play in a professional club because I knew that everything was organised. They pay for your transportation. They pick you up from school and a bus reaches the stadium straightaway. I knew that I always wanted to do something like that and I was already in the best place. When you are young, you cannot go out of the city. However, I never knew that I can be there but I did not expect there to be that quickly. At that age that was very big thing for me and they gave me a youth contract with stipend. It helped me out a lot. For a 13 year old kid, it was more than enough to cover your expenses. Singapore is expensive and it helped a lot. I trained there at their facility and it felt very nice.


Abneet: Yes, but that is not like a salary. It is just enough to cover your transportation and other basic expenses. Singapore’s transportation is expensive if you’re aware. You want to eat something before training or after training you want to buy new shoes, the amount is enough for that. For a 13-year old it means a lot…



Jersey: Would you still take money from your father?

Abneet: If I needed something direly which my stipend would not allow, I would not have anyone to help. I would ask him. Singapore was an expensive place. It was difficult. I would play there for two seasons. First season I found a very good coach. His name was Subanam Pereira. He was from Singapore, however, his great grandfather was from India. In Singapore you will find many people of Indian descents. He was a guy who helped me to upgrade my skills. We would be training five times a week.


Jersey: Did your Indian connection help you?

Abneet: I will be very honest. I did stand out. However, he was not really Indian. He would not speak Indian languages at all. He supervised my preparations and that was the main thing. I was there for the first year. They gave me another contract for the second year. In youth football, they will give you one year contracts. It is not even a proper contact. It is like a pledge that if you sign up for that club, you cannot play for any other club. I played my second year and after that the coach changed. I was playing for three age groups at that time. I was U-16, but I was also training with senior guys at that time. I was gaining height; however, I was skinny at that point in time. I was mainly in the reserve team as I was too young to make appearances in the main league. At Singapore, you cannot put players in your main team unless they are 17. I used to train three times a week with them however, I could not get a main team appearance due to my age. I was looking for a change after my second season. I got an offer from Balestier Khalsa Football Club. They were probably the biggest clubs at that point in time as they played AFC Cup the same year. They had a firm head coach from Croatia. This club was closer to my house. In Geylang I had to travel one and half hours to go and the same to come back. I signed up for the club as the head coach of the first team spoke with me. I was almost 16 at that point in time. He told me to wait for one year and said that he will include me in trainings. That was the major thing that drove me to join the club. I played there for only 8 months, not even one full season.



Then the opportunity to give trials at Spain arrived. I took a risk. I flew to Spain. I knew that it was a one way ticket. I did not know that how long I would stay and how long they would keep me. I managed to stay there on my own. Everything out there was so organised that I was shocked to see them. Training was three minute walk from your staying facility. They had the residential academy which was used a young player’s residence. The club was Real Valladolid. Now they play La Liga. At that point in time, they were just relegated. Everything was provided to me. The food was top-notch; the facility was state-of-the-art. Everything seemed absolutely organised. The problem that came along was that I was not allowed to get a move to a European club as the FIFA restrictions came along.


Jersey: Why was the restriction a bother to you?

Abneet: FIFA does not allow U-18 players to transfer from non-European countries to European countries. I was playing for the youth team. I stayed there for two seasons. I played for U-17. It was difficult for me to break through to the main team at that point in time. I spoke to some people who guided me a lot. They were pushing for promotion in La Liga. They did not want to risk for an eighteen year old Indian player. Then I got a call from Luis Boa Morte, one of the famous Portugal players. After that he invited me. He liked my playing style and his team needed a centre-back. His team specially needed a versatile centre-back who is fast. I was called for training for a few days. Right after the first training he told me that I would sign. After my second training I signed a contract. I became eligible for a u-19 team call up. I moved there. It was a sensational feeling. It was a sheer football. When you are a young lad, and you are in the dressing room, it is a different feeling altogether. But before I moved to Sintrense, I had a very big chance to play in Poland. I did appear for the trials. My medical was also done. The season in Poland starts very early. The season started in Poland on July 10th and the transfer window closes in August. So you can always sign up players before that. Hence, I arrived. I was being picked for the first team in Poland and not any reserve team. I was just 17 then. That was an eye-opener. Everything was done by the coach. He was Darius Kubicki. In my second game, they got thrashed by the biggest Polish team by 4-0. Recovery was a massive thing for me. The coach got sacked. New coach arrived. He doesn’t want any old players. It was a big heartbreak, When you are just 17, it feels like that you are achieving something, and that very juncture, this happens and you know that everything is gone. You cannot blame the new coach either because he didn’t know any player. He did not sign any player after that. He just loaned some players and that is all. This is football. That is when I knew that nothing in guaranteed in football.

Jersey: “Did you cry?”

Abneet: “No. I was sad for sure but it was always difficult for me to shed tears. I cried probably when I got injured but not for that. I did no cry because in that situation I could not do anything. Nothing was in my hand. I did what I could have done. I passed the trial. Then I moved back to Spain for a while before I moved to Portugal like I was saying.


Jersey: Why did Spain let you go?

Abneet: It is because it was difficult for me to make it to the first team. It is always difficult for a foreigner to make it to the first team in any part of the world. I had one year left in U-19. I could have risked one more year, played in it and stayed and see that if they would give me a professional contract. After everything that came out, my advisors and I had a word and we decided that it is good to move.


Jersey: “You play for senior team at Portugal?”

Abneet: “Yes, at Sintrense I do play for the first team. I have played my first match against Sporting Lisbon B. I was the youngest player on the pitch and I had a very good start. Everything went well for me. The things that made me sign for them were firstly the coach, Luis Boa Morte, the coach. The second thing that impelled me to join them was that they were the best team in the division. Thirdly, the place was very nice; it was only twenty minutes drive from the hotel where I was asked to stay. The club was partners with the hotel and I was said to stay there.


Jersey: Were other players there too?

Abneet: “Yes, there were other players too as the hotel sponsored the club. All the players who were not from the local scene got the hotel to stay. There were two options. You can either get an apartment or the hotel.”



Jersey: Name a few star players of that team?

Abneet: Nelson Simedo of Barcelona. He did not play this year; however, he was the youth product of Sintrense.


Jersey: Was he there with you?

Abneet: “No, he left four years ago. He moved from Sintrense to Benfica and from Benfica to Barcelona. He has played with Ronaldo at Sporting Cordoba. He is a man of very good character. When you are playing senior football, it is completely different from youth football. Trainings, matches all are completely different. Senior football is all about money. With money on the stake, if you do not play one game good, no one would give you a second chance. You have to wait. It was a good season. I was happy.”


Jersey: You have spoken up about your ups. What are the downs that you have faced so far?

Abneet: The injury for me is the biggest down. I am not scared of it. After 9 months I will be back. I have really had rumours that Club America is interested in me. They are the biggest club in Mexico. It is funny because no Indian ever used to know about it. They were interested in me when I was in Spain. However, the FIFA laws of transfer made it difficult for me to move there. Somehow they are interested in me again. I do not have any direct contact but my agents spoke to them again. They are looking forward to sign or loan me out. They want to wait until the end of this year.


Jersey: You think going to North America will help you?

Abneet: “It is a big club. I do not know. If you ask me that where I would like to play now, my mind is clear. The sooner I recover, and get back on my feet, is the time that what are the offers that I have. Now there is no point in saying that which club I want to go to. Because I can go on for hours but that doesn’t make any sense. I cannot sign right now for any club. The situation I am in will have two options. Firstly I can sign a new contract which must have a release clause. However, then I will have to play at the same level. But I do not want to play at the same level. I have seen this level. I want to play in higher levels. So if there is a release clause, no one has to pay anything for me. It is much easier being a free player. If I attract more interest like Indian player playing the league and conquering it will surely attract attention. It will either be 500 thousand or it will be free. It hardly makes any difference because in my contract it should mention that either they pay for me for the season or if any injury happens, they will pay until the injury. I am getting everything paid for by the club, what else do I need?”


Jersey: Do you think that the release clause will help you to become a bigger player?

Abneet: My club has signed some free player for 10million Euros. If you put 10 million Euros for me, I have not shown my worth for 10 million Euros. I know that myself. What will happen is that I will stay in the club. Alongside that I will be fully locked. You have put 10 million Euros on me and I can’t play. It makes no sense.


Jersey: I have got an update about you. You are one of the most talked about player in the entire Portuguese League. I hope that you have heard about it. What do you think will be a bright way for you to look at the leagues?

Abneet: “There are so many ways. Firstly, I will have to bounce back after my injury. I know that I will. There is no doubt that I won’t. But my main focus is that I will take it step by step. My aim goes to playing the top division in Europe in the next 4-5 years. I know that there are problems when I am 20 but at 25 I do not see any problems in that. But if I am not fit, none of them is possible. My main goal is to do my rehabilitation well, keep physically and mentally fit. I will take it step by step. Next step you will see that where will I end up. I have offers from my former club on the table which I won’t consider. I will have to turn them down. I have few other offers already. But I want just want some clubs where conditions are very good. I just do not want to play for financial advantages. I want the conditions to be good for my life. Everyone needs a good life and the main thing for me is the roadmap for me to reach where I want to reach.”


Jersey: “Who is your agent now?”

Abneet: “In Germany, I am represented by Athlete Sport Management. In India it is TRP. I am also working for Mundial Sports Management, the biggest sports agency in Portugal. With Athlete Sport Management I might cancel my contract because it ends this year. Manwal from Mundial has been very impressive. He has power specially his own agencies which features several players, His agency is called Starbucks Management. He has got exclusive sports agency in Mundial in Portugal. I have been speaking with him for quite some time now. He knows exactly what I want, where do I want to be in future. Most importantly he believes in it. He is someone very trustworthy.”


Jersey: “Who are all there in your family?”

Abneet: “My mum, my dad and my younger brother. My younger player is also playing in the highest youth league in Poland. His club’s name is Znicz Pruszkow where Lewandoski was produced. It is one of the best youth footballer producing factories in all of Poland. His position is a striker.”


Jersey: “Do you think that being a defender is a tough task and proving yourself as a defender becomes even tougher?”

Abneet: “Being honest I think that being a defender is quite easy. The show is quite different as well. You will have to show something different, something which makes you stand out. When you reach top level players, every one of them has got something that separates them. Look at Lewandoski. His finishing is best in the world. You know Hector Bellerin. His passing might be not upto that level. His crosses might not be upto that level. But his speed is amazing. Every individual out there has got a distinction right next to their name. Trippier from Spurs can create marvellous crosses.”


Jersey: “Do you play as a centre-back?”

Abneet: “I can play both as a centre-back and a right-back. I prefer playing as centre-back because I am tall. I have a lot of speed. I am a very athletic player and am good with the ball which is very hard to find. The main thing for me is athleticism. I believe that is the quality which separates me from others. I am centre-back and I believe that no one can run past me.”


Jersey: Who has been your idol?

Abneet: “I do not have one idol. I look upto many players. In football you will have to be your own hero, however, I still look upto players like Toby Alderweireld, Laurent Koscielny who has got similar physiques and very similar skillsets as me. They are similar to me. I like Zlatan’s mentality. He came up from a minority. He proved himself. Even I come from a minority in football as India is still a minority in football. He was an emigrant and I am an emigrant too playing for different clubs hailing from India. Someone with a strong mentality will definitely make it.

Jersey: No liking for Ramos?

Abneet: The best part of Ramos is his ability to score goals. Being a centre-back he scored more goals than the strikers in the league. It makes him standout.


Jersey: You must be seeing Indian matches?

Abneet: I watch them once in a while, not always. I do know that what is going on in the Indian football scene.


Jersey: I think sooner or later the Indian national team will happen to you. Who do you think is better than you in your position?

Abneet: It is very hard to say. I have never seen them live.


Jersey: Do you like anyone in Indian football?

Abneet: I do like some young players. I like Sunil Chhetri. He is very well connected. I do like Jerry. He is also an amazing footballer.


Jersey: If Indian clubs give you a good paycheck, will you come back?

Abneet: “ISL clubs are interested in me. I do not want to say names. But they are interested in me. The paychecks are actually massive. For a twenty-year old, the paychecks are absolutely incredulous. However, the roadmap which is of significant importance to me is not pretty good. I will never say no to anyone. However, for now, it is not an option.


Jersey: Are you being paid more than the amount which has been offered to you by the ISL clubs?

Abneet: Right now, no I am not being paid more than them. I get paid more than enough for a young player to live a comfortable lifestyle. I also have a few luxuries. It is more than enough for me. I do not lack anything and I have a good standard of living. ISL clubs can pay more than that.


Jersey: It is a notion that European clubs pay you more that Asian clubs do.

Abneet: If you play in top European clubs, they of course do. However, now the perception has changed. In Europe, it is said that Asian clubs pay you more than European clubs.


Jersey: Do you and your brother talk football?

Abneet: Yes, of course we do. I guide him in football. He is only 15-years old. We are very close. Our family is very close. He is going down the right path. He is going to make a great name for himself in Poland.


Jersey: Your family supports you in playing football.”

Abneet: “Of course they do. Other than them supporting, any of this would have never happened.”


Jersey: India is such a place where parents are mostly not well versed about Indian football…

Abneet: They did not use to know much about football either. However, my dad knows about football now. Sporting B is full of young players. They are all U-23 and U-24 players. However, when you come from India it is very difficult for you to make your mark. As being an Indian needs you to play 3-4 times better than yourself just to be considered to make a cut for them. The mentality towards Indian football is highly degrading. In the back of their head, they think that Indians cannot play football. It depends on how they look at you in the pitch. Expectations are very high. When you play in Brazil, they always believe that Brazilians do have some playing techniques. When you are from India, they believe that we do have nothing. Amongst Indian players, I do not have anyone to look upto. Who has made such an impression for me so that I can look up at him?”


Jersey: Do you feel pressure with the fact that you are the only Indian player playing in Europe?

Abneet: The pressure is high. However, I do not think much about this at all. I still have not achieved much. I still have not achieved 10 percent of what I am supposed to achieve. This is no big achievements. You can find U-14 players playing at the same level as me. I have achieved nothing to flaunt. Especially the current status that I have now, will be very big for some people in India. However I will see myself as nothing. It is just the beginning. It is just the first step. I do know that what I want to do.


Jersey: Who are you dating, Abneet? Is your girlfriend someone from India? Share your thoughts about the role of family and the loved ones to a pro-footballer.

Abneet: No. my girlfriend is Polish. She is very nice to me. Especially during my injury, she, my mum, my dad and my brother has been very supportive to me. I have realised this later that you will have to balance your personal life and football at the same time. Earlier it was all football for me. I like going out with her when I am out of the game. When you are old you realise, that there is a life outside football.


Jersey: “Please describe the feeling of an injured professional footballer.”

Abneet: “My injury was in two stages. Firstly, I had an injury in the knee. Nobody told me that I had a torn ACL. I did three MRI’s. One said yes, two said no. I came back. I had two weeks rest. Two weeks of rehabilitation and I was back on the pitch. After that in the first training session, I felt that I have completely torn it. It swelled up like a balloon. I completely realized that I have torn it. I went to the physiotherapist. She told the coach and the manager that they have lost me for the rest of the season. When I was infront of them, the reaction of the coach and the manager was quite shocking. I got injured right before the winter break, I took two weeks time gave myself rest and flew straight to the training complex in January. I took my bags from my locker. I did not know what was about to happen. Doctors told me that I had to go through a surgery. I did not know that where I was supposed to do it. I was told to get the surgery done in Portugal. If I was doing the surgery in Portugal, then at least for the next two months I will have to stay in Portugal. Or I can move back to Warsaw and get it done there. I spoke with my coach. He said that it was the best to get it done at my home as I will have the most supportive people behind me. I had my mum, my dad, my brother and my girlfriend, Julia who backed me immensely.”


 Jersey: Which is your favourite club?

Abneet: I don't have any favourite club. I like how Arsenal plays. Especially how they played under Arsene Wenger. I am not a die-hard fan. It is just that the style of the Gunners that attract me. People criticised him, but he definitely had something in him.”


Jersey : Who is the better coach for you? Mourinho or Guardiola?

Abneet: I can't say anything. I have just read things about them. You can't say anything about them. You just read about them and when you play under them they are absolutely different persons.”


Jersey: Have you faced racism?

Abneet: (Laughs) What do you want me to say? Ofcourse, being an Asian its tough to live out there. Being an Indian I have to work twice as hard as the others have to do. You’ve to prove yourself every minute, which I personally don’t feel for others of my age…


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