The Men of Steel’s shot-stopper talks about the recipe for the national team’s success, his time at the Tata Football Academy and much more.

The name Subrata Paul needs no introduction to Indian football fanatics. One of the most outstanding players produced by the country in this millennium. Considered at one time in some circles as one of the finest exponents of his trade in Asia, Subrata is an example for up and coming goalkeepers in the country. Overcoming tough times in his youth, Paul has made it to the top by dint of his sheer determination and hard-work.

In a career spanning 14 seasons so far the experienced custodian has played at a number of top clubs in the country and was the undisputed No.1 for the national team for a significant period of time. Even after all these years the hunger to be better hasn’t diminished a bit and shot-stopper has been a key element in Jamshedpur FC’s impressive showing in the team’s debut season in the Indian Super League (ISL). Khel Now had the opportunity to sit down for an exclusive chat with Indian Football’s ‘Spiderman,’ of the Indian game.

Paul is a graduate of the famous Tata Football Academy (TFA) in Jamshedpur which has been the breeding ground for many stars of Indian football over the years. So, when he signed for the ISL newcomers this season it was a match made in heaven. On his return to where it all began he said, “The TFA means a lot to me. Whatever I am in life today is because of the TFA. So, when I was picked by the Tatas (for Jamshedpur FC) It was like a homecoming for me.”

He further added, “I was very happy when I got picked for Jamshedpur FC because I got the opportunity to try and give something back to the Tatas to whom I owe a lot. It is now the team’s job to give their best and take Jamshedpur FC to the playoffs.”

Complimenting the TFA for its contribution to Indian football he said, “Nowadays a few academies have come up in our country, but in our times there was only the TFA. The scouting system was very good and they got many talented boys into the academy. The education that was imparted there helped me and the other boys have a good career ahead. The TFA over the years has been providing the national team with a lot of great players and are doing very well even now. Long may it continue.”

Jamshedpur FC are in their first ever season as a professional club and on being asked about his expectations from the team and franchise as a whole the goalkeeper said, “Personally speaking, I never set a target, I believe we should live our life for today, give our 100% today and hope for the best. Like that, I want to focus only on the game at hand and give my best. If we do well, then think about the next game.”

Part 1 – Candid Conversation with Subrata Paul

The Jharkhand outfit are having a good run in the ISL this season under coach Steve Coppell, who joined them after leading the Kerala Blasters to the final last season. Subrata spoke about his relationship with the manager. “He is a top, top person. He is one of the best persons I have met in my 15-year long career, apart from being a great coach. I had a similar relationship with Bob Houghton (former India national team coach),” he explained

“I get to learn a lot from him (Coppell) everyday. The way he conducts himself, his understanding of the game. The mood in the team under him is always positive and I believe we will perform even better in the future with him at the helm. I have not met any of the great coaches of the game be it Jose Mourinho, Alex Ferguson or Pep Guardiola. But he is someone like them for me.”

The Men of Steel have been the best side defensively in the league so far and the Spiderman himself is sitting atop the goalkeeping charts with seven clean-sheets. Asked about the secret behind their good defensive organisation he said. “Football is a team game and so we defend together starting from Izu Azuka at the top to myself in goal.”

He added, “The defensive duties are not only for Tiri, Anas (Edathodika), (Andre) Bikey or myself, it is also for all of Jamshedpur FC. The team trains really hard and we try to replicate the coach’s instructions on the pitch and so far the results have been favourable.”

Born and brought up in the Kolkata suburb of Sodepur, Subrata went through troubled times as a youth. Football was his only way out of his problems and misery. The shot-stopper spoke about how he was introduced to the sport. “I was like any other kid in my village who loved playing football day in and day out. Then one day, our village coach Saumik Da took me to the Sodepur ground and from then I began to take the game more seriously,” he recalled

he continued, “Everyone calls me a professional footballer now, but for me football is much more than a profession, it is my passion. Give me a football, a pitch and 10 other people and I don’t need anything else.”

Subrata unwaveringly credits the TFA for their role in his rise as a professional player. However there is a little known story about how he almost didn’t make it at the hallowed institution. Shedding light on the same the keeper narrated, “By the time when I reached, the trials were already over and our coach Ranjan Choudhary told me to come again next year.”

“I also didn’t want to leave without anything and spent two nights outside the main gates. Finally the people took pity on me and offered me a trial. I trained with the other boys. The coach liked me and I got selected for the TFA.”

The topic of discussion then veered to the Indian National team under coach Stephen Constantine and Subrata was all praise for the Blue Tigers’ tactician. “I think the national team under the coach is doing very well, Constantine has a good squad at his disposal, a mix of young and experienced players.”

Elaborating on the Englishman’s mantra for success he explained, “He (Constantine) always wants to improve the team further and he is assisted by a good support staff. He personally looks into every aspect that affects on player performance, be it diet, treatment and training facilities.”

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He further added, “Under Constantine the attitude of the players is positive, everyone works equally hard be it the senior pros or juniors. It doesn’t matter to him if one is a big player or a newbie. If he is working hard and doing well in training he would be in the team. It goes to show that he has handed over 30-odd debuts in the last two and a half years.”

“As for results, the team has qualified for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and it is a huge thing for football in the country. We have qualified by being group toppers and never In my 15 year-old career have we have achieved something like this. Hopefully, we will carry this form and do well in the tournament.

The Spiderman only concedes a goal every 102 mins – the best in the league

The best moment of Subrata’s playing career was in the 2011 Asian Cup in Qatar where he was the standout Indian player. It was his performances there that earned him the nickname ‘Spiderman’. Reflecting on how he got this moniker for the first time he said, “This was almost Seven years back on 21st Jan 2011. We were playing South Korea in a group stage match.

“Though the boys played well, we lost the match 3-1. In that game, I happened to make a lot of saves and after that the South Korean media gave me this name.” He further added, “This is a very good memory, something I would be able to look back upon fondly when I am chilling with my family once I retire from the game.”

On a parting note, the Spiderman had a few words of advice for the young and upcoming players of the country, “I am a very big believer in hard-work and whatever I have achieved has been possible with hard-work only. Don’t cheat on your football, work hard, give your 100% every time and God will always help you”