Defying odds and age

Kashmir's star footballer Mehraj Wadoo beleivees that age is just a number and that he will play in the ISL till he is fit enough to play.


He didn’t have to look far for inspiration. All he had to do was follow his father’s instructions and he might become as skilful and effective as him. And that is what he did. For Mehraj-ud-din Wadoo fate had carved a role that many can only dream about, and hardly land a chance to accomplish the dream. Today he is a star footballer, with clubs in India and Europe willing to bet on him.
Driven by passion and example of his father who was also a successful footballer, Wadoo was determined to show his skills out the narrow lanes of the Rainawari area of the old city where he grew up with the idea of making soccer his main pursuit of life. “I got inspired by my father who was himself a well-known football player of the valley. He used to take me in small play fields in Rainawari area near to our home and teach how to play football,” he said, who has represented national side as well as some of the top clubs in India.
Wadoo started his football career as a striker when he played for the Iqbal Sports Club in 1996, then played for the Police and JK Bank. After being noticed at the national level, he got an opportunity in 2001 to play professionally at a league level outside the state.
Since then he has never looked back. He has played for India’s top clubs- Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Salgaocar, HAL, Mohammedan Sporting, Sporting Goa and also represented national team.
“I am playing professional football for the last 15-years. I have played almost in every place in Europe and Middle East,” he said, who is presently the captain of Chennaiyin FC.
The team is co-owned by Mahendra Singh Dhoni and has been playing in Indian Super League (famous football league in India). The team defeated FC Goa 3-2 and emerged as the 2015 title winners of the Indian Hero Football League.
Before that Wadoo was picked by Salman Khan owned FC Pune City in the first season of the ISL.
For Wadoo scoring the winning goal against Bangladesh in the SAFF Cup finals at Karachi in December 2005 was one of the best moments of his life. He was also a member of the Indian squad that won Nehru Cup 2007, the AFC Challenge Cup 2008 and the Nehru Cup in 2009.
But what disappoints the International football player is the lack of sports infrastructure in the state. “Talent is available in Jammu and Kashmir but we lack the platform. Our state is 100 years behind in infrastructure when comparing it with other parts of the country. There is enough talent in Kashmir but we don’t have the infrastructure to hone the talent,” he regrets.
He believes that there are many football players in Kashmir who could represent the country if they get a proper platform and proper coaching. “But the talent is getting wasted due to poor infrastructure in the valley. If players stop practicing during the winters then it becomes difficult to prepare for playing football. Even if I stop playing for a week I feel myself unfit. For that government needs to create infrastructure where the players could play throughout the year. Lot of players are looking for opportunities but government needs to provide infrastructure to the players.”
Sharing his experience how he made his place in the national side when state has ‘poor infrastructure’ and Kashmir was going through tough times, he said, “If one has to attain the success he has to overcome hurdles and difficulties. For that one needs to remain determined towards the game.”
Back at home, he pulls decent crowds wherever he plays in the Valley on field or outside the ground. Last week Wadoo was a main attraction for his fans at the Shar-i-Kashmir Indoor Stadium where he, along with other top sportsmen of Kashmir, was felicitated by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
“Government needs to encourage the budding sports person of the state. It is not necessary to felicitate players who had earned their name but those also need to be encouraged who are doing well in the game but remain un-noticed.”
He said that he would continue to play football till he enjoys the game. “Age does not matter if you are capable to play the game. As long as I enjoy the game I won’t retire,” he shares.
He said if JK team performs better in football tournaments it would benefit the state sports. “For that it is responsibility for everyone to promote sports in the state. When I am in Kashmir, I also provide some training to youngsters here,” he added.