AIFF Media Team
BURIRAM, THAILAND: Sulanjana Raul was expected to be seen on the field since her childhood. But not to play football.
As the daughter of a farmer from the remote village of Bhagabanpur in West Bengal's East Midnapore district, it was natural for Sulanjana to assist her father on the field. But her vision of what a field should be used for was always bigger, which was further fuelled by her father and a supportive family.
The result was quick and fruitful. Sulanjana, the 16-year-old wide-eyed village girl, is already one of the key upcoming footballers in the country and a member of the India U17 team for the AFC U17 Asian Cup Qualifiers Round 2 in Thailand.
From an early age, Sulanjana has had a couple of aspirations that drive her every day. First, she is determined to fulfil her father's dream of becoming a professional footballer. And last but not the least, she holds a deep desire to meet her football idol and constant source of inspiration, Sunil Chhetri.
Sulanjana started playing football with boys from her village when she was only 10 years old. She embarked on this journey with little knowledge of the game’s techniques or its rules. However, she was determined to master the game, not just for herself but to accomplish her father's unfulfilled football dreams.
Her father, a farmer by profession and a passionate football enthusiast, had to set aside his own football ambitions due to family responsibilities. But as Sulanjana grew older, he entrusted his daughter with the mission of fulfilling those unfinished dreams.
"I want to become a good footballer and fulfil my father’s vision. For me, nothing is bigger than him. He is my role model and I try to learn a lot from him. I also help my father with farming because I want to help him like a son does.
"Do your hard work and success will follow — that's exactly what my father’s simple mantra is. I try to follow his advice and work hard to achieve my goals," said Sulanjana.
Sulanjana became a popular name in women’s football in Bengal after she joined East Bengal Club and turned out to be a prolific scorer with 11 goals in the Calcutta Women’s League. Her talent caught the attention of the scouts, leading to her selection for the U17 Women’s National Team one year ago. Since then, Sulanjana has taken several significant steps towards fulfilling her father's cherished dream.
"I've come a long way from my days of playing with local boys, then getting selected in trials for East Bengal and now I am here, representing the U17 national team," Sulanjana said with a hint of pride in her voice.
She also scored her first international goal on her debut in Round 1 of the AFC U17 Women’s Asian Cup qualifiers earlier this year against Myanmar.
"There is a huge difference between scoring goals in club football and at the international level. I always try to learn the technical abilities and skills of each team I play against and attempt to implement them in my next games," said Sulanjana.
"I aim to make a significant impact on the international stage and score more goals for my country," the left-winger said.
"I've gathered huge experience from the first round of the qualifiers. Though I didn't start in the first XI initially, getting the opportunity against the Kyrgyz Republic for a few minutes and then being included in the starting XI against Myanmar made me feel like I was on cloud nine."
Not only does she dream of playing for the Senior National team one day, but also admires our Senior Men’s National team skipper Sunil Chhetri and dreams of matching his feet in women's football one day.
"Sunil Chhetri is my favourite player. His composure, behaviour and lifestyle are truly remarkable. He's been the captain of India for so many years and has maintained himself exceptionally well. His focus is something I deeply admire.
"I really want to meet him some day and talk about football, his life, and what he likes," laughed Sulanjana.