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Subrata Paul: A football career as controversial as celebratory

As a youngster, Subrata Paul, 30, could have gone astray in a rough neighbourhood but got his life back on rails as a cadet at the Tata Football Academy

football Updated: Apr 25, 2017 14:59 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Subrata Paul (yellow jersey) has been a pillar in the Indian football team alongside Sunil Chhetri and Jeje.
Subrata Paul (yellow jersey) has been a pillar in the Indian football team alongside Sunil Chhetri and Jeje. (AIFF)

The jury is out on whether Subrata ‘Spiderman’ Paul has got entangled in his own web but should this be it for the goalkeeper, it would mean a career of some rare highs bookended by controversy.

As a teenager good enough to be in Mohun Bagan’s goal in the 2004 Federation Cup final against Dempo, Subrata Paul was provisionally suspended by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) for a rash challenge on Brazilian striker Cristiano Junior, who died seconds after scoring.

The trauma of being guilty till proved innocent could have ended Subrata Paul’s career. But this lad from Sodepur near Kolkata was made of sterner stuff. Even earlier, he had shown vignettes of such resilience.

As a youngster, Subrata Paul, 30, could have gone astray in a rough neighbourhood but got his life back on rails as a cadet at the Tata Football Academy (TFA).

He shone at TFA and was picked up by Mohun Bagan but even as his career looked like taking off, the Junior episode happened.

A second blow came when some officials at Mohun Bagan accused him of not giving of his best. But in India coach Bob Houghton, Paul found a saviour. Going into the 2007 Nehru Cup, Houghton made Subrata Paul India’s No. 1 goalie ahead of Sandip Nandy.

In 2009, Subrata Paul moved to Pune FC and was a triallist at Vancouver White Caps (HT Photo)

It is said Paul’s courage and leadership skills made him Houghton’s preferred choice. India won three successive Nehru Cup titles with Paul in goal, his biggest contribution coming in the 2009 final against Syria when he saved a shot in the sudden-death tie-breaker, flying to his right and keeping out Hamez Al Aitoni’s penalty with his left hand. Surkumar Singh converted his shot to complete India’s hattrick.

After the Nehru Cup in 2007, East Bengal reportedly shelled out Rs 50 lakh -- an unprecedented amount for a goalkeeper -- in 2007-08 for Paul. In 2009, Paul moved to Pune FC and was a triallist at Vancouver White Caps.

Two years later, Subrata Paul represented India in the Asian Cup finals in Qatar. That was the first time in 27 years that India were among the Asian elite. India lost all their matches but the margins could have been heavier had Paul not been in goal.

It was for his exploits against South Korea that Paul was nicknamed ‘Spiderman’ by the international media.

Paul continued to be India’s No.1 goalie till the India-Iran World Cup qualifier in Bangalore in 2015 when Gurpreet Singh Sandhu got the gloves.

A year earlier when the Indian Super League started, Paul was signed by Mumbai City FC for reportedly R 80 lakh making him the highest-paid Indian in the competition till Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Sunil Chhetri broke the R 1 crore barrier in 2015.

Now, the No. 2 choice behind Sandhu, Paul, mentored by former goalkeeper Debasish Mukherjee, who is also his father-in-law, got the Arjuna Award last year. The failed dope test means Paul could face a four-year ban.