Indian footballer headed to the Spanish League

Poorna Swami | Updated on April 05, 2019 Published on April 05, 2019

Attagirl! Brishti Bagchi (in pink jersey, front row) was spotted by a talent scout from Spain and invited to train at an academy in Madrid

Bengaluru-based soccer player Brishti Bagchi may become the first Indian woman to play in the Spanish League, if all goes well

When Brishti Bagchi looks ahead, she sees herself playing football for India. When she looks back, all she recalls is devoting her free time to soccer. “My parents tried to put me in other sports at summer camps but I loved football more,” she says.

The 25-year-old soccer player has now been offered an opportunity to train in professional football in Spain. If all goes well, she will be the first Indian woman to play in the Division 1 La Liga (Spanish League).

From June, she is scheduled to begin training at an academy in Madrid and playing with reserve teams, provided she can muster enough funds. If she performs well, she stands to bag a contract to play club football professionally.

Bengaluru-based Bagchi has been kicking a mean ball for a while now. Her mathematician father and statistician mother, she says, have always supported her. “They’re also very passionate about what they do. There is a lot of them in me,” she says.

She began playing football at a small alternative school on the outskirts of Bengaluru. At age nine, she was selected to play for the Sports Authority of India girls’ team. She went on to play at the state level for the Karnataka junior and senior teams.

The move into competitive teams was a big change for her. “In school, we didn’t play to compete. Now, suddenly, winning and losing became the most important thing for everyone around me.”

But winning, she adds, is not everything for her. “Of course, I want to win, but the quality of the game we play is what matters to me. If I’m not having fun on the field, the game is not worth playing,” she says.

Her love for football took her to the US in 2012, where she played varsity soccer at the Oklahoma City University. She later moved to the North Texas University, where she obtained a degree in kinesiology, the study of the mechanics of body movements. Her game developed in the six years she was in the US. “The game became more tactical. It was not about specific skills but how you could function as a team,” she stresses.

Bagchi tried for a spot in the US National Women’s Soccer League but was ineligible as she was on a student visa, she says. But another door opened as a talent scout from Spain saw her game in 2018 and invited her to train in Spain.

In 2018, she trained for a month with the reserve teams of Madrid CFF, a Division 1 club. She was evaluated by a Union of European Football Associations-licensed coach, who gave her the current opportunity, which, she hopes, will help her play professionally.

Bagchi now needs funds to be able to pay the Madrid academy for her training, accommodation, local travel, special meals catered to athletes’ needs and weekly physiotherapy. She needs about ₹15 lakh for the six months of training until her contract is signed.

“I have had no response from big companies,” she says, “but I keep writing, hoping for a reply.” To meet her training costs, she has started a crowdfunding campaign through the platform Milaap, but still hopes that a corporate sponsor will come on board.

“Football is a team sport. It’s not like I am going to get a gold medal for India, I know. But that isn’t how it should be. It’s about what I’d be doing for the community and for girls. I wish they would look at it like that,” she tells BLink.

Does she hope to play for the Indian national team one day? “I would love to play for India. Training in Spain, where the game is so good and so different, will help me. Ideally, I want to play for the national team in India and a club abroad,” she says.

When not on the football field, Bagchi also designs special workouts based on kinesiology for her clients. “I would like to continue my research on physiology and its relationship with the brain. But maybe when I’m 40,” she laughs.

She works on her own conditioning, runs, and then plays football with Bengaluru’s many amateur teams. “I am literally playing everywhere in the city so that I can get as much practice as possible before I go to Spain.”

The teams she plays with in Bengaluru comprise mostly men. She is a strong proponent of mixed training, which she believes has made her a better player.

“When football training camps come to the city, they should take in an equal number of boys and girls. Or maybe start taking in boys only after a certain number of girls have been taken in,” she says. “At the beginners’ level, a mixed game is fine. And at the intermediate level, the division of practice teams should be based on skill, not gender.”

Football for her is as much about the game as it is about people. “You meet people from different backgrounds. The game gives you a community,” she says. In this community, she hopes for a future not just for herself but for other women, too. “In India, there are now some guys who are taking care of their families through football. I wish women could get the same opportunity,” she says.

Poorna Swami is a writer based in Bengaluru

Published on April 05, 2019

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