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Sunday, Nov 17, 2019

Real Kashmir star Danish Farooq eyes India berth

A Cristiano Ronaldo fan— “been one since I first saw him at United and I am a United supporter,” he said—Farooq said the I-League, scheduled to start early November, would be crucial.

football Updated: Aug 21, 2019 23:46 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times, Kolkata
A file  Real Kashmir's Danish Farooq.
A file Real Kashmir's Danish Farooq.(File Photo)

It is not that Danish Farooq did not try. From when he was four or five to a decade later, he would start his day with football—initially accompanying father Farooq Ahmad Bhat to training—and return to it after school and tuitions. But when he was in Class 9, he decided enough was enough.

“By then, I was playing for a local team, Chinar Valley. I was studying but my interest was in football. We would even play in the snow for an hour daily,” said the 23-year-old Real Kashmir star referred to as ‘Apna Danish’ and ‘Kashmir’s Ronaldo’ after a breakout season in the 2018-19 I-League that saw Farooq shine bright and his team finish third.

In 19 I-League games, Farooq scored twice and made one assist. In the season before that as Real Kashmir qualified for the I-League top tier, Farooq scored four goals in 17 games. But with Farooq, numbers don’t tell the tale.

“This is his third season with me and he has been exceptional. In I-League 2, he played centre-back, right back and midfield. He can play wide, striker, everything apart from goalkeeper. He is a very important player for the team and it shows the level of players available in Kashmir,” said Dave Robertson, the team’s Scottish coach who played 136 games for Aberdeen, 183 for Rangers in Glasgow and made three appearances for Scotland. Asked about playing in multiple positions, Farooq said: “My favourite position is in the midfield but to be a footballer now, you need to be able to be able to do that. The game is so dynamic these days.”

In Wednesday’s semi-final against Mohun Bagan in the 129th Durand Cup, which Real Kashmir lost 1-3, Farooq started in front of the back four before moving up to be Gnohere Krizo’s strike partner.

All this meant Farooq would have to trade anonymity for stardom. “People see me on television. Kids want to meet me. Now even before I go somewhere, people know I am coming and they wait for me, want to greet me. To be known for playing football makes me very happy,” he said.

Playing football full time was a decision Farooq took with the backing of his joint-family in Sakidafar, Srinagar. “My father played for Jammu and Kashmir and Mohammedan Sporting but my mother, uncles, sisters and cousins, everyone was behind the idea of giving up academics,” he said. From Chinar Valley to a trainee at the Jammu and Kashmir Bank’s academy, to their first team before settling in Real Kashmir FC after a term at Lonestar FC, Farooq said he wouldn’t mind moving out of the Kashmir.

Farooq said he has heard of Ishfaq Ahmed, Mehrajuddin Wadoo and Abdul Majid: Kashmiris who played at the highest level in India. “Their stories motivate me. I think this is a great opportunity for me to emulate them,” he says.

For Farooq, this season started with a late goal against the development team of I-League champions Chennai City in the Durand Cup. Back after a three-month break and after one full training session, the win spurred Real Kashmir into an unbeaten run to the semi-finals.

Robertson named Farooq as one of the players who played with heart against Chennai City FC in Kalyani. “It is good that we got this so early in the season,” he said. It fit that a side often referred to as a band of brothers, Farooq would dedicate Real Kashmir’s first goal of the season to the team, the coaching staff and the owners.

A Cristiano Ronaldo fan— “been one since I first saw him at United and I am a United supporter,” he said—Farooq said the I-League, scheduled to start early November, would be crucial.

“Danish knows there is more quality coming in the team now and he needs to perform even better,” said Robertson.

So, does he hope for an India berth this season? “Why not, why not,” said Farooq. “I don’t know what the India coach looks for but if I was the national team coach I would certainly be looking at him,” said Robertson.