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By Nilanjan Datta,
AIFF Media Team


NEW DELHI: Leander Paes, one of the greatest-ever sportsperson India has ever produced sent in his best wishes to the Indian National Team ahead of the Hero Intercontinental Cup final against Kenya. In an exclusive interview Paes, a die-hard Football fanatic sent his “strength and energy to the Blue Tigers,” and spoke at about Football being a part of his training, the present context in Indian Football and much more. EXCERPTS:


What’s your message to the Indian National Team ahead of the Hero Intercontinental Cup final?


I wish the Blue Tigers all the best for the final today. The whole nation is cheering and supporting you. To my good friend Sunil Chhetri and all the other Tigers, I send all my energy and strength for a great victory.


There has been a new euphoria over Indian Football all over the country. How do you see that?


I see Football in India at a wonderful stage where aspiring young Indian Footballers are getting to play in leagues with their idols and players whom they looked up to. Rubbing shoulders with them and mingling with them will always help them harness their skills. Football is a great way to entertain the community and sports can bridge everything across all spheres of life.


Can Football in India grow bigger?


I feel Football is the biggest sport in the planet where one ball can look after a whole nation. The effectiveness for football is very much viable for country like India. Even if you look at Brazil where most of the stars come from the lower community, not much enveloped in the abundant luxuries in life, there is a similarity to India in some context. Football is a low cost sport where unlike some other sports you don’t need to look after or take care of expensive equipment.


You have said so many times that Football was your first love? Do you still get time to play Football in spare time?


Very much. I have got Football in my blood having being born to a Bengali mother and a Goan father. Football is a part of my training and whenever I get a chance, I enjoy it to the fullest.


In fact, I play for an All-Stars Club where I play along with Ranbir (Kapoor), Abhishek (Bachchan) and others and we play for humanity. We played our last match in Pune a week back and I scored the winning goal and some time back when we played in Singapore, I scored the winning goal too (smiles). We were playing in Singapore to raise money for some underprivileged Indian kids.


There has hardly been such a patriotic player across all sports as you. What was it that brought out the best out of you while playing for your country?


That has been the greatest driving force of my career. I have always played for the Blue. It’s the greatest honour for any sportsperson to represent his/her country.


Since childhood I grew up ironing the jerseys of my mom and dad, both of whom were acclaimed International sportspersons – my mom represented India in basketball while my dad had the bronze medal in field hockey from the Olympics (Munich, 1972).

Posted on : Sunday June 10, 2018