A simple McDonald’s visit with his dad eventually led to him becoming the first Telugu player to sign for Hyderabad FC. This is the story of how Abhinav Mulagada became the first local player to sign for the Nizams.
The 16-year-old has had numerous training stints in England, including those at Chelsea and West Ham Academy before he returned to India and joined the youth team of ATK FC. Mulagada was scouted by the Hyderabad management during the local trials held in April, and they signed him up on a long-term contract.
In an exclusive chat with IFTWC, Abhinav Mulagada shared his thoughts on his move to Hyderabad, his favorite players, and his journey to becoming a goalkeeper.
Abhinav walks us through the story of how he became interested in football through a visit to a local McDonald’s chain in England.
“I was a young kid and was out with my Dad and there was a TV screen in McDonald’s. It was during the 2008 UCL finals and the game was between Chelsea and Manchester United. The goalkeeper for United was Edwin Van Der Sar, I was caught up when the penalty shootout was going on. Van Der Sar saved the penalty and United won it and that was precisely when I was amused by goalkeeping in football. I started diving on the sofa fascinated by the game and I also remember breaking my arm.”
“I was around 9 years old when I went to London for the first time. I used to play for Senrab FC, in a Sunday Football League. I remember a man named Abu who asked me if I would play for his Sunday League team and I said yes.”
“There were so many people who were interested like me. I started a little weak but the coaches were helpful, they had hope in me.”
In addition to his time with Senrab FC and the Leyton Orient academy in London, Mulagada also spent half a year with Chelsea FC’s youth squad.
“Later I was scouted by a person working for Chelsea and he told me to come over to the common training ground. There I met Yves Ma-Kalambay who was the goalkeeping coach for the U-16 and U-14 teams but I was playing for the U-13 side. I was registered for the season on a six-month deal.”
“It was a training program where they scrutinized my qualities. The stint with Chelsea was more of like a meet and learn football with coaches. It was the first big step that I took in football and that was with a club like Chelsea, so it was a little hard to cope up with everything but eventually, it was all fine along the way.”
Abhinav Mulagada on Edwin Van Der Sar’s feats which inspired him to become a goalkeeper.
“Ever since I watched the UCL final at McDonald’s, I was fascinated by the way goalkeepers used to dive and save the balls. Humans cannot fly but goalkeeping is something through which I can fly as well. I am very happy to be a goalkeeper. I consider it to be the most significant position in a football team.”
Abhinav Mulgada on his footballing idols
“I idolize two footballers right now, one is David De Gea and the other one is Zlatan Ibrahimovic”
“I like Zlatan’s attitude. I watch his videos before games and it motivates me. The way he speaks, the way he plays, he is almost 40 years old but still, he walks into the pitch with a winning spirit.”
“Amrinder Singh and Pritam Kotal are my favourite Indian footballers. Pritam Kotal had been with me when I used to train with ATK’s senior team. He used to motivate me every day, I used to follow his steps and used to be with him off the field.”
Abhinav Mulagada on the influence of coaches and friends
“Back in England there was a 60-year-old goalkeeper coach whom I admired. Whenever I used to train with him and could not perform a drill, he used to put himself out there and show me how to perform the drill. I was inspired by his dedication. He never gave up on me.”
“I met a girl of my age in India. Her name is Liza Joan Peter. I was astonished upon meeting her as she was the first Indian female footballer I know who was so passionate about football and had the same goals and dreams as me. She always wanted to wake up and get ahead a step closer to her dreams just like I chased mine. It was amazing being a part of the Grassroots Football Academy in Hyderabad where I met her and always trained during my offseason. It was a great motivation being around her, training and getting to know her way of playing football. It was great to be around her!”
Abhinav on former Chelsea centre-back John Terry starting his journey from Senrab FC as well
“I was around 10 or 12 years old, when I was playing in the U-12 team. It was the longest time I was with a club in England. I played a season or two with them and that is where I got to know about football, its rules and the game as a whole.”
“I remember a few names from back then, Dave and Tony Carell. John Terry’s first club was Senrab FC and it was a huge thing for me to know that he started his journey from where I started mine.”
Abhinav Mulagada on the role of his stints with Chelsea and West Ham academy in his career
“Chelsea and West Ham came later in my journey. U-14 level was where I played for Chelsea and the infrastructure there was amazing. I saw professionalism in football at the Chelsea academy. Senrab was a Sunday league club so it was more casual than professional football.”
“When I came to Chelsea, I was surrounded by very competitive kids and I got to learn a lot there.”
“U-15 was the time when I was with West Ham. I was scouted by George, the then goalkeeper coach. West Ham was where I could implement whatever I had learned from Chelsea.”
“It was working out great until I had to come back to India due to my dad’s transfer. His transfer was the reason in the first place why I was able to know a lot about the beautiful game. That was the place where I could believe in football.”
Abhinav Mulagadaon his move to West Ham academy from that of Chelsea
“It was a six-month training stint at Chelsea. I played a few games and in one of them the goalkeeper coach of West Ham, George came up to me and he said that he wanted to meet my goalkeeper coach from Chelsea. I was quite nervous and then they called me when they were talking. Coach George asked me if I could play with West Ham for the Danone Cup which was hosted at the Wembley stadium.”
“The West Ham team was playing as London, and one of the matches that I played in was against Spain. It was a very huge thing, it was a nine a side match and the Danone Cup was the main reason for me moving to West Ham”
Abhinav Mulagada on differences between football academies in Europe and India
“I was very surprised when I signed for Hyderabad FC. They were very professional and clear about what they wanted from me and what they wanted to do. The coaches here are no different from coaches in England. They expect the same from you.”
Mulagada on the trials in Hyderabad and the team environment at Hyderabad FC
“I was called by their goalkeeper coach, Joel. The coaches wanted to take a try with me. There were a lot of local people from Hyderabad who wanted to be a part of the club. The coaches had huge expectations and this was one of the trials which were professional. The coaches hosted a few drills and then we played a game.”
“The coaches were Thangboi Singto and Shameel sir. I got a call after a few weeks and they informed me that they wanted me to be a part of the Durand Cup. The coaches that I trained with played in Durand Cup, so I knew it was a big thing.”
“All the players are very experienced, disciplined and punctual with everything. It is very enjoyable to be part of such a team. There were a few senior players from whom I learnt how it is to be part of the senior team. They used to give me the most helpful advice. It is a wonderful environment”
“I am very glad to be a part of Hyderabad FC. It is very professional, all the coaches want to bring the highest level out of you.”
Abhinav Mulagada on his feelings about playing for a club from his hometown and his long-term aspirations with the club
“There were very few clubs when I came to Hyderabad. Fateh Hyderabad was there and Sreenidi was an academy back then. When I was with ATK and got to know that Hyderabad was coming to the ISL, I already started making plans to play for the club, given that the staff and fans speak the same language as I do.”
“It is a dream come true for me. I was waiting for this to happen. Most of my teammates play for clubs from their state.”
“I want to stay here as long as I can. I am glad to be a part of this team. The training is nice, the coaches are amazing, the whole staff and management are so friendly. I would love to continue with the club, perform my very best, and want to be the best version of myself.”
Abhinav Mulagada’s message to the fans!
“I am just another local lad, trying to fulfil my dreams for the club from my state. I want to give the finest to the fans and the club. I want to move forward and hope to do the job well over here.”
“నా స్వంత నగరానికి చెందిన జట్టుకు ప్రాతినిధ్యం వహిస్తున్నందుకు చాలా సంతోషంగా ఉంది. మన జట్టుకు ఆడే అవకాశం వచ్చినప్పుడల్లా నా శాయశక్తులా కృషి చేసి మిమ్మల్ని గర్వపడేలా చేస్తాను. నాకు అవకాశం ఇచ్చినందుకు మన జట్టుకు, ఆదరిస్తున్నందుకు మీ అందరికీ నేను మనస్ఫూర్తిగా ధన్యవాదాలు తెలుపుకుంటున్నాను”
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