The Malabarians’ star broke into the scene from Kerala’s Santosh Trophy squad in 2018.

It was just a season ago when a certain Rahul KP dodged and dribbled his way past defenders from the left-wing, impressing one and all in the Indian Arrows colours, ending with three goals — a feat that saw him enter the top 10 Indian goalscorers’ charts in the league campaign last season.

Having represented India in the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup Rahul Kannoly Praveen’s name was already on the tips of football fans across the country. While he has now moved on to Kerala Blasters in the Hero Indian Super League, another Rahul KP has just taken the baby-steps towards making his name in the Hero I-League as he gained promotion from the reserves to the senior team of Gokulam Kerala FC.

While the other Rahul was making his name in the U-17 World Cup, Rahul Kotholi Padinjareveed was battling it out for his state Kerala in the 2017-18 Santosh Trophy season. Rahul netted five goals in the competition, the joint-highest for Kerala, alongside Jithin MS and Afdal VK, and eventually went on to lift the trophy – marking the first time in 13 years that the state actually won the title.

“It was such a proud moment for us all. The Santosh Trophy is a prestigious tournament, and the fact that we were playing against West Bengal at their own home ground, made things all the more special for us all,” said Rahul. “It was much like playing an away match as the crowd in Kolkata were backing West Bengal.”

Rahul KP Gokulam Kerala FC

Rahul KP is an integral part of Gokulam Kerala FC

Kerala had taken the lead on two occasions, in the first half and in extra time, but Bengal had equalised on both occasions. “That match really tested our resolve. We were in the lead both in regulation time and then in extra time but Bengal came back on both occasions,” recalled Rahul.

“The penalties were nerve-wracking. We literally did not have anything left in the tank but we all knew that we must muster up enough strength for that one last kick,” he continued. “I scored the first penalty, they missed their first two and that is when the pressure eased on us.”

A new home brings a new beginning

Before his exploits in the 2017-18 Santosh Trophy, Rahul KP and his family were struggling to make ends meet. Much like the other football stars from Kerala, Rahul was also from a humble background. His father is a carpenter in the town of Kasargod.

However, even though Rahul excelled in the sport at the local levels, things were not always bright and sunny for his family. The youngster had to travel around 7-8  km on his cycle every day in order to train. He was soon selected for the Kerala U-15 side. While Rahul progressed through the ranks though, back home, things started to get murkier.

His family lost their home in a dispute, something that deeply affected the nimble-footed footballer.

“That was a particularly difficult time for us. My family had nowhere to live, and we did not know what to do about it either,” recalled Rahul.

However, it was the glorious campaign in the Santosh Trophy that helped him dig his family out of the troubled times. The Kerala Government stepped out with a Rs 15 lakh prize money for Rahul, with which he is now building a new home for his family.

That was not the only recognition that Rahul got after the Santosh Trophy win. While he had already been signed by the Gokulam junior side before the Santosh Trophy, the memorable victory at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Stadium propelled him to the reserves last season. Now, however, the youngster has come all the way through the ranks and is preparing himself for his first season with the senior team.

“It’s a lot different in the senior team. The training sessions are much more intense, and there’s a lot more focus on tactics. Also, there’s a lot more pressure every time you step onto the pitch,” he said.

One state, two Rahul KPs

Of course, the appearance of a Rahul KP on the Kerala team sheets on the 2017-18 Santosh Trophy confused one and all. However, within the Kerala football circles, the two Rahul KPs have been making waves for some time now. Both were noticed by the AIFF scouts, and they were both selected for the India junior camps — Rahul Kannoly Praveen in the India U-17 camp and Rahul Kotholi Padinjareveed in the India U-19 camp.

Both the Rahul KPs met each other at this camp, and have been friends ever since.

“We often joke about it. Our names have created a lot of confusion for the fans. Many fans keep sending me gifts with his pictures on them. It’s really funny and we have quite a laugh about these,” said Rahul Kotholi Padinjareveed.

While Rahul Kannoly Praveen went on to represent India in the World Cup, Rahul Kotholi Padinjareveed’s dream of playing in India colours still remains unfulfilled. As he prepares for his first-ever season in the Hero I-League, Rahul hopes to inch closer to his ultimate dream.

“I’ve always wanted to play for India. That is a dream that has kept me going all these years. I have been working hard through the years, and will continue to do so, in order to fulfil it,” he signed off.