Aspiring marathon runner to football star – Farukh Choudhary’s origin story

Jamshedpur FC youngster Farukh Choudhary, over the last few seasons, has come leaps and bounds, firmly establishing himself as one of the most sought-after young strikers in the country. The 23-year-old was particularly impressive in Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20, contributing with four assists and a goal – his highest goal contribution tally till date.

Not only is he one of the key members of the Jamshedpur side but is also a regular member in the Indian squad. However, if fate hadn’t interfered during his childhood, things could have been very different. Farukh recently joined Anant Tyagi in the fourth edition of Let’s Football Live and explained how football happened to him, somewhat by ‘accident’.

The young striker admitted that he did not originally plan on pursuing a career in football. “I started during my schooldays. I wanted to participate in a marathon when I was in 5th standard and was training for it since I was 7-year-old. My sister and I used to run in the ground in front of my house everyday with dad keeping watch. I gave my name for the marathon but was never called up.”

However, usually when one door closes another opens, and thankfully for Farukh, he opted to walk through it. “When I came to know that, the marathon was already over and the only sporting discipline I could still participate at our school was football. I asked my dad for permission and he obliged. So, I joined my house team to play in an inter-house tournament during. I played as a center back and we won the tournament thankfully. That’s how my football journey started.”

The transition from defender to a forward

Having started off as a centre-back during his initiation to football, Farukh instantly showed a knack for scoring goals, a feature that set up the foundation to him eventually emerging as a full-fledged forward. “Playing as a central defender, I was scoring goals. I think my coach saw that I had this scoring ability. So, he told me I'm going to take you in the under-12 tournament, and I want you to play as a striker. From that day, my position changed, and I became a striker playing for my school, the district tournaments and then the state tournaments,” he recounted.

Despite a few bumps in the road, the youngster persevered and rose through the ranks at the famed Pune FC academy. In 2015, he signed for Hero I-League 2nd division club Lonestar Kashmir and impressed with his performances, scoring six in 18. His performances soon attracted the attention of Hero ISL club Kerala Blasters FC, who signed him up for the 2016 campaign.

Sharing the dressing room with Sandesh Jhingan and Aaron Hughes

Although he featured only twice for the Blasters, Farukh spoke about the influence his time at Kerala had in shaping him as a player and individual. “Playing alongside, and sharing the dressing room, with the likes of Sandesh Jhingan, Aaron Hughes and others was a huge deal for a youngster like me. I used to call Aaron Hughes, ‘Aaron sir’ despite him pointing it out time and again that he was my teammate. What I know of professionalism, I learnt from him. The way he led on the field, his recovery regime post matches. That season, we reached the final but sadly we lost out. But it was a great learning curve for me and to experience all that in the first year was something else.”

His time with Jamshedpur FC and playing under Coppell

The 2017-18 season saw Jamshedpur FC snap Farukh up in the Player Drafts and needless to say, Steve Coppell – who also coached him at Kerala the previous season – had a big role to play in roping in the youngster along with him to his new club. The striker was appreciative of the former Kerala and Jamshedpur coach and said, “I want to thank Coppell for the trust he showed in me. He had a huge role to play in my career. He showed so much interest in me and he had a huge part to play in my career, because I've learned a lot from him.”

The striker also opened up about his deadly combination with Spanish striker Sergio Castel, which set the early parts of the Hero ISL 2019-18 alight. “Playing alongside him, has helped me to be honest. I think training together helped us get that combination. Whenever I used to get the ball, I know where he's going to make the move, allowing me to put the ball there, and vice versa. So, I think that worked out in the beginning of the season, until he got injured. We were having a great time until then, both on and off the pitch. And as you can see, I've got few assists. I also scored a goal, but it could have been better. If Piti and Sergio were there for other games, it would have been different.”

During his time with the Jharkhand-based club, Farukh has also grown close to Memo Moura as well as Tiri. “We have been together for a long time. We are like family. I have plans to visit them in Spain and Brazil once the Covid-19 crisis is over,” the young striker declared when asked about his closest friends in the team.

An heir to Sunil Chhetri?

At the young age of 23, Farukh has been a part of the highest level of Indian football for more than 5 years now. Being one of the top young strikers in the country and Indian football fans often speculating about the captain, leader, legend’s possible heir, Farukh’s name has been tossed around quite a bit. Enquired about the burden of expectations, the youngster noted, “I didn't know that people said that I can be the next Chhetri, but it's very kind of them. But I don't think that someone can be the next Chhetri. I think it's a bit unfair. The work he has done for the country, you know, scoring so many goals, I don't think it's very easy to do that. However, I think, being a youngster, I would always hope and aim to reach that level for my country.”

A message for young, aspiring footballers

Not a lot of professional Indian footballers below the age of 25 have as many appearances in the Hero ISL as Farukh, and the striker cited hard work and self-belief as his key to success. Addressing the young guns in the game aspiring to traverse in his footsteps, he advised, “No matter whatever happens, make sure that you believe in yourself. Because there will be a time where no one will believe in you. That's the time where you have to believe in yourself and keep going no matter what. It might take one month, it might take one year, it might take five years. But if there's consistency, hard work and determination, you will make it big.”

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