Mumbai teen returns from US to showcase his talents

Pratik Shinde set to play for FC Pune City


History beckons teenager Pratik Shinde for a second time, soon after the first. The 19-year-old from the chawls of Chembur, in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai, made history when he became the youngest Indian footballer to sign a contract with a foreign club at the age of 15. The club, Galveston Pirates SC of Texas, USA (now rebranded as Houston Hurricanes FC), played in the fourth tier of US soccer, the National Premier Soccer League.  

Back in India now after plying his trade in the US for the past three years, the central midfielder hopes that the stint abroad will enable him to showcase his talents to good effect in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) and help him realise his ultimate ambition of donning the India jersey.

“ISL is a great concept and will provide impetus to football in India. I am very optimistic about the success of the league and I believe this will be a great opportunity for young Indian players to compete and play alongside world-class international players” said Shinde when asked about his expectations from the upcoming event.

It is a dream fuelled by the promise of a rosier future that the ISL could engender. The Indian Premier League (IPL) made instant heroes out of largely unknown players in cricket. The hope is the ISL does the same for promising, but largely unknown, football players, such as Shinde.

Born in a family of extremely modest means, a young Shinde was brought up by his mother after his father passed away in 2008. He discovered the beautiful game by accident at a young age and had to borrow a pair of cricket boots from a friend so he could attend football training.  His innate talents and drive got him enrolled at several grassroots academies but his big break came when he went with the Steadfast Academy’s under-14 team for the Gothia Cup youth tournament in Sweden, where he became an instant hit after scoring against the German youth team.

Shinde received an offer to play for Spanish lower-division club Alvobendas FC, but financial constraints fouled the move. However, a saviour arrived in the form of Galveston coach Brandon Keyes, who managed to spirit him to the US after overcoming innumerable hurdles. Pratik played 22 games for Houston Hurricanes in 2013, finding the net nine times and providing 11 assists.

Shinde has been picked up by FC Pune City for the inaugural edition of the ISL. He will hope to reach even greater heights with his new club, and add new chapters to his fairytale story!

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