Senior National Team
Greener the vegetables, greener the pastures: Imran Khan’s voyage to National Team
17 Mar 2024

Akhil Rawat
AIFF Media Team

ABHA, SAUDI ARABIA: With a football at his feet is how Imran Khan journeyed from nothing to everything. From zero to here - it was all about hard work and love for the game, believes the latest winger to earn the Indian senior national team call-up. From selling vegetables with his mother to wearing the coveted blue shirt, Imran couldn't be prouder.

Playing for your country is the biggest achievement for any football player. You hear it every day. It is perhaps the biggest cliché in football. But there's no bigger truth as well. Imran can attest.

“My brother called me and told me I was selected for the national team. I was really surprised. I asked him, "Are you serious?" I thought it was a dream. I was so ecstatic. I had been dreaming of this moment for a long time, for so many years. As a kid, I always wanted to wear the Indian jersey. I was really happy. I couldn't explain in words how I felt at that moment," shares Imran with child-like excitement.

Imran was raised in Kairang Mayai Leikai, a village in the Imphal East district of Manipur. "Football is a culture there. Kids are always playing on every corner," he says.

“My mother used to sell vegetables on the street. We didn't even have a cart. She sold them sitting on the floor. I was around 13 years old at that time and always used to go with her to help her out. That's how we earned our living. Beside that place, there was a small ground where some kids used to play. My mother asked me if I wanted to join them, and that's how my friendship with the ball began."

For Imran, football was simple. Ball at the feet at all times. Taking on opponents, dribbling past them, always keeping an attacking mindset. That's the kind of player he has turned out to be professionally too. Impressive enough for Igor Stimac to give him a chance to prove himself with the Indian team. With the kind of performances the 29-year-old has been dishing out for Jamshedpur FC in the ISL this season, many would say it was only a matter of time before he was rewarded with the call-up.

"But I don't expect too much in life," the winger says. "I was only focused on doing my best for my club.

“When I was a kid, I always loved to play with the ball at my feet. I didn't have any preferred position or anything like that. I just wanted to have the ball all the time. In terms of what I need to improve, I need to be better without the ball. Football is a team game and I try my best to improve in all aspects and help my teammates."

The one whom Imran wants to help the most on the pitch is his inspiration and idol Sunil Chhetri.

“Yes, I want to score my first goal, but I really want to assist Sunil bhai," he laughs. "I loved to see him score on TV all the time. His mentality is second to none. At such an age, he keeps going and runs more than any of us. I've played against him so many times as an opponent, and now we're on the same team. I want to be the one to provide him with an assist."

Representing the country on the international stage, sharing the dressing room with Chhetri, and making his mother proud - these are the best days of Imran's life.

“It's a great feeling to be a part of this family. It's a dream come true and I'm really happy. The coach and the teammates really support me. I've played with many of them before in different clubs. Every moment is fantastic with the national team. Next, I want to make my debut. But most of all, I want to win. These are really important matches for us in the World Cup Qualifiers," he concludes.

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