From not getting selected in the U-17 World Cup side to winning the trophy this year, it
has been a roller-coaster ride for the Muzaffarnagar wonder kid Sumit Rathi. Little did he expect that he would get a chance in the senior team of an ISL side, and play fourteen matches this season whereas big names like Anas Edathodika, Salam Ranjan Singh got much lesser game-time than him. He kicked off his footballing journey from Chandigarh Football Academy at the age of 9 years and then got selected in India U-14 team, but unfortunately, failed to make a cut in the U-17 World Cup squad. After spending one year at Indian Arrows, he joined ATK and played for the reserve team in the Second Division I-League while playing in Calcutta League and helping his team to get promoted in the first division this year.
He got called up for the senior team after coming back from AFC U-19 Championship qualifiers and never quite looked back ever after. Positive but shy, the emerging player awardee of ISL 6 , Sumit Rathi opened up in a candid conversation with us.
● Who is your favorite Footballer?
Sumit Rathi:- My first coach Rohin Kumar has always been my favorite player in football.
● Who is the best player you have played with and why?
Sumit Rathi:- Roy Krishna, because I like his fighting spirit very much and the way he gives his 100% on the pitch be it practice sessions or the matchdays.
● What’s your fondest memory in football?
Sumit Rathi:- Every footballer savours the moment he debuts. The debut match for ATK senior team against Odisha FC at Pune was by far the fondest memory for me.
● Most Indian parents want their children to be a doctor or an engineer. Very few of them only stick to sports. How did your family help in making football as your career?
Sumit Rathi:- If I talk about my family, they have always been with me, they always gave the freedom to me and told me not to stop playing; and I have the responsibility, not to break the trust of my family members; especially when your family members are supporting you in everything you do. And I think the best thing about my family is, that, they first asked me what I wanted to do rather than enforcing what they wanted me to do.
Because it’s not necessarily what your family wants, it’s important what your child wants to be and I think both of them are happy with it. And I think every family should ask their child what they want to pursue. It should be an open chat like what is your goal in your life, you know?
I believe I was born to play. I’ve been very passionate about all forms of sports since childhood; I think it would be fair to call me a well-rounded sportsperson (with a chuckle).
● Who has been your favorite Coach? What is your opinion about Antonio Habas?
Sumit Rathi:- I think all the coaches are the same for me because till date I have learned something from every one of the coaches I have trained under and I respect all. But if I talk about Antonio Habas Sir, he has given me a new birth in football, he has given me a chance to play at such a high level, so he is always special.
● How many positions you have played for, in your life, and which position you think yourself to be most suited in?
Sumit Rathi:- I Played in four different Position:-
1- Left Back
2- Central Defender
3- Defensive Midfielder
I think all the footballers should play in more than one position.Apart from your favorite position, you should also play on some other position also.What happens with that is, if you have more options, it will help in the future; in your football career. It is also good for all the coaches also. But personally I like to play in the left central defender the most.
● If not Football, then what profession you would have chosen?
Sumit Rathi:- Haha.. Maybe Badminton or maybe Modelling.
● How did you impress Habas coming from a Reserve team and straight making debut against Odisha FC?
Sumit Rathi:- Like when I joined ATK in 2018, it was my dream to play for the first team. So, whenever I used to go to the ground for the practice, I used to think that I have to play for ATK first team.when I came to know that the Habas Sir has called me For the first team at that moment I was overjoyed because it was a great opportunity for me if I would get a chance at the age of 18 to play India’s topmost league. So when I went to do the first training session with the first team, it was in my mind that I need to push myself and work harder more in the practice session.
So after that day, I gave all my efforts in the ground in every training session and I also had in mind that I have to learn something new in every training session and that thing helped me a lot throughout the season.
Then one day Coach Habas told me in the training that all the professional players start their career with zero, he said me to keep working hard and I will definitely get a chance in the playing eleven. Because nothing is easy at a professional level so I
need to work harder, great things never come if you don’t move out from your comfort zones.
● The experience of playing under Habas and your experience of playing
alongside Johnson and Agus.
Sumit Rathi:- Like for me playing under Habas Sir, it was a very memorable and proud moment because Habas Sir was the one who motivates all the players in the team.
About Agus Garcia and John Johnson:-
Both helped me a lot like when at the start the season, I played with Agus and the best thing about him was that he was a good leader in the pitch.
Always talking with all the players especially with the defenders’ and Agus always told me one thing that to keep the game simple and not to do any extraordinary things. Agus said that it was difficult to keep the game simple, but it’s easy too as he
showed faith in me. He always had words with me at the beginning of the match which has always been very beneficial to me. Agus always told me to push harder and give more effort on the pitch.
John had been my dear friend of mine in the team and always used to treat me like his younger brother and it’s also true that he is one of the most experienced defenders in the Indian Super League. I had a great relationship with them on the field as well as off the field so the communication was great with them and it has always given an advantage in the matches.
It has been a very good experience for me that I played along with two great defenders and also grew my skills that will help in the years to come.
What is your ultimate dream to achieve in your career?
Sumit Rathi:- To represent the country at the senior level. That’s always the dream!
● How have you been practicing or keeping yourself fit during the Covid-19 pandemic? What would be your advice to the budding talents on how to keep training during this phase?
Sumit Rathi:- I think this is a very important time for all people where they need to take care of their body as well as their fitness. I believe, that the best time is when a person can give more time to himself; he can do all he wants to do. But it is very important that we should be very strong-minded and stay positive as much as we can. Because this is a bad time that we now days have to face it firmly. So we should be very strong with our minds, we have to practice ourselves. We should all wake up with the mindset in the morning, that God has given us a new day, in which we have to be better than yesterday and be stronger. Because every player eagerly waits for this time– to get the maximum time spent with the family and we may not get a better time after this.
● What would be your advice for the young generation who wants to dive into Indian Football?
Sumit Rathi:- Personally, I just wanted to say that according to my experience as a player so far, I believe
that if today’s player’s generation gives special attention to all these things which are mainly:-
1) Discipline on and off the ground
2) Sleeping time must be perfect always
3) To stay focused
4) Fight for your dreams
5) Work hard and never give up.
And amongst all these, the most important thing is to have all your attention on your goal. If we do all these things with full determination and true soul then I think that players of every generation can become a professional footballer.
● What would you do professionally after your retirement?
Sumit Rathi:- Helping those children who want to aspire football as their profession. I would like to open a good football academy for all those children where they will be receiving a good facility from childhood onwards.
The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great at whatever they want to do. It had been my dream that until I take retirement, I would like to fulfill all the dreams of my mother and gift my family a new life.
We, the folks at IFTWC would like to thank Sumit, for sparing his valuable time out and giving us the interview. We would also like to wish Sumit the best for his future.