Following in Bhutia’s footsteps

India skipper Bhaichung Bhutia calls his first Subroto Cup appearance in 1992 'a big break' that landed him straight into a top-flight professional club. Seventeen years later another Sikkimese striker hailing from Namchi, just a kilometre away from Bhutia's village Tinkitam, has drawn out a different high for himself from the same tournament.

14-year-old Uttam Rai has become the first player from the Subroto Cup Academy to sign a deal with the under-15 team of Swiss club Grasshopper Club Zurich (GCZ).

"Uttam's performance merited a trial with the Zurich-based club and the management decided to include him in the under-15 team. He'll be there for six months-two months of pre-season and four months of the league-initially, which the coaches felt will be enough to judge," Arijit Ghosh, a part of the management of the Subroto XI who toured Switzerland last August, told Sportline, adding, "His studies will be taken care off as well. During his stay, he will be attending a free school," Arijit Ghosh, a part of the management of the Subroto XI who toured Switzerland last August, told Sportline.

Rai scored thrice in two matches, but ended up in the losing side against GCZ. "We lost the match 5-2 and I was surprised to be called for the trials. They took some time before informing the management that I was picked," Rai says, piecing together a few English and Hindi sentences.

Starting from a remote area Rai had a few renowned associations to help him trudge the distance. The Namchi Sports Hostel-that was home to Bhutia's first playing days outside Tinkitam-and the Subroto Cup.

But all these connections and the geographical proximity don't faze the youngster who sticks to Sunil Chhetri when asked about his favourite Indian player.

"We are proud of Bhaichung but I like the way Sunil Chhetri plays. I wish to do what they have done but there's a long way to go. I'm more confident after my first ever overseas tour and ready to play in Europe. It'll be difficult because not too many get such an opportunity. I have one and will give my best," Rai says.

... contd.

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