The youngster also revealed that he has put up a picture of the Spaniard in his apartment to show respect.

When Sumit Rathi, one of the main player who made Antonio Lopez Habas’s team last years’ ISL champion, is saying, “No one but my childhood school coach Rohin Kumar is the idol of my life” or when he says, “for my family, I have to drive a tractor to cultivate my land when I go home”, the face of the 19-year-old boy always makes a revelation.

There were only a few players who after coming from Uttar Pradesh spread the light on the jersey of the country or the club. Mustaq Ali, Jatin Bist, Nasim Akhtar once played. But after playing in the Indian Super League for just one year, no one was picked by the national coach to the national team camp. It was unfortunate for Sumit, the son of Sonata village of Muzaffarnagar, that the camp was cancelled as the pre-World Cup match was postponed at the last minute due to Corona. He did not meet national coach Igor Stimac. However, it did not break his mind. Sitting in the Goa camp, he was saying, “The camp was not organized for Corona. What’s in it! If I play well, I will be called again. It is my dream to play regularly in the Indian team.’’

Sumit Rathi lost his father at the age of three. Growing up in a peasant family, Sumit was not giving up hope. On an empty stomach, he would get up at 4:30 in the morning and go to a school, about 20 kilometers away, by cycle. Rohin Kumar, the school’s sports teacher, used to start training at 5.30 am. Classes in the school continued from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm. Then he came back home by cycle again and ate rice, bread and vegetables. They have a few bighas of land. His elder brother cultivates sugarcane and beets there. Sometimes he had to drive a tractor to help him. He still drives the tractor when he goes home. He was saying, “After becoming the champion, I went home on a holiday and drove the tractor. I helped my elder brother in farming.”

But how did one of the best-talented defenders in the country emerge from a remote village at this moment? That too is like a short story. The school’s sports teacher explained to him, “If you want to be a great footballer, try to enter the Chandigarh Football Academy with a trial.” Sumit Rathi started dreaming after hearing the coach’s words. He persuaded his elder brother and boarded the train. He went to Chandigarh and was selected in the academy where former star footballer Harjinder Singh used to coach.

Sumit became technically more efficient as soon as he was trained by Harjinder Singh. From there, he got a call to the AIFF Youth Academy. Life turned around. Although he has not yet played in the senior national team, he has played for the under-14 and under-18 national youth teams in the country’s jersey. Sumit was in the Under-18 SAFF Cup champion team in Nepal. After that, the federation team played for Indian Arrows in the I-League. From there, he joined ATK’s youth team two years ago. He was called up to the Habas’s team while playing in the first division of the Kolkata League. He was saying, “I could not sleep that night when I was called to play for the senior team, like the night after being the champion in the last year. Those two days are the red-letter days of my life.”

Sumit Rathi became essential soon after he joined Habas’ team. Competing with star footballers, he took a regular place in the first XI. He made 14 appearances, becoming man of the match once. In three matches he has received the award for the best promising footballer. Habas has used him more in the left back in three defender formations. “Sir told me, be ready, you will play at any time. In the Odisha match, coach sir gave me a chance in the place of dropped Anas Da. Then I played almost all the matches. He is God to me. I put a picture of my childhood coach sir in the flat given by the club. I have also put a picture of Habas there to show respect.”

This time, however, it is very difficult to enter the first XI of ATKMB. Star footballers like Sandesh Jhingan, Shubhashis Basu, Tiri have joined to strengthen the green-maroon defense. Of course, Sumit is not worried at all. “This time, five players will get a chance to play in replacement. I will prove myself if I get a chance. Coach Sir has always said that professionals have to be prepared to deal with any situation. I’m getting ready” said the footballer, who became a star within a year.

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