Shubham Sarangi: Missing out on U-17 World Cup pushed me to get better

One of the best young talents in the country, Odisha FC full-back Shubham Sarangi enjoyed a lot of game time in Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20. The 20-year-old defender established himself as a mainstay in the Odisha defence and helped his side to a sixth-place finish in the standings under former head coach Josep Gombau. However, Sarangi’s football journey has been far from straightforward with the youngster having to overcome rejection after failing to make the squad for the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup that was hosted in India.

“I still remember the day that the team was announced. There were 26 players out of which 21 got selected and I didn’t make the cut. It was very disappointing for me, but I came back to the room and prayed to god. And since that day, I decided to work hard every single day. It motivated me and made me a better person. The day I didn’t get selected, I just wanted to make sure that it doesn’t affect me too much and that it makes me a better person. I felt bad but I couldn’t let it affect me too much and just kept pushing to become better every single day until I signed a contract with Delhi Dynamos,” Sarangi told host Anant Tyagi in the latest episode of Let’s Football Live.

During their almost hour-long chat, the defender spoke on a wide array of topics like the influence of Aspire Academy on his career, the move from an attacker to a defender and his time with Delhi Dynamos FC.

His footballing journey and Aspire Academy

A native of Visakhapatnam, Sarangi showed immense talent from a young age and impressed in trials with Delhi’s state team, eventually earning a spot in the squad for the U-13 AFC qualifiers. “When I was 11 or 12, there was this trial for the Delhi state team. My school team football coach encouraged me to go for the trials and luckily, I got selected. Then we went to (play in a school festival) and I was just having fun, not aware that there were scouts at the event. But after the festival finished, there were 22 of us who were chosen to play for the U-13 AFC qualifiers and that’s how my journey started,” Sarangi said.

His first experience at the professional level came with Delhi Dynamos. However, before representing Delhi, he was sent to the famous Aspire Academy and Sarangi clearly cherished his time there. “Aspire Academy is one of the biggest academies in the world. They focus on the basics of football a lot. After every training session, we used to go to this chamber where a ball would come at you and a light would come on in the direction, where you were supposed to pass the ball,” he said.

“They have a huge set-up and most of the players who played there are also playing for their respective national teams. The entire culture and coaches there are very encouraging. They were completely behind me and till today, they keep messaging me and asking for updates. Every training session, they want you to improve and push you,” Sarangi added.

Moving to right-back and the influence of Josep Gombau

Now a right-back, it’s worth pointing out that it wasn’t always the case for Sarangi. “I used to play as a striker in the U-13 and U-14s. Then I moved to midfield and now I am a right-back. I feel at this age playing in different positions gives me a lot of qualities. If you are playing as a right-back, you need to have different qualities compared to a centre-back or any other player. So, at this age, I gain a lot from playing in different positions,” he opined.

The 20-year-old made nine appearances in his debut season with Delhi Dynamos FC in Hero ISL 2018-19 and gained valuable experience. “I didn’t get much game time in my first season. Back then, I was playing as a defensive midfielder and an attacking midfielder sometimes. I remember one game against Bengaluru when I played as a striker. So, I learned a lot of things during that season, which was my first year as a professional,” he said.

Sarangi continued, “I could visualize and see a lot of things that I could improve on and players like Marcos Tebar were very helpful. He always used to tell me after training that even if you don’t get chances, you can still keep improving. And when you have a good environment around, you tend to improve. My parents and the entire management were behind me and I wanted to do well.”

However, the biggest influence behind him switching and flourish at right-back was former Odisha FC head coach Gombau. “At the end of the 2018-19 season, my coach told me, ‘I think you will be a very good full-back.’ To which I replied, ‘coach you will have to guide me.’ Then when we went for pre-season, I played every game and looked to keep learning something about the full-back position from every game. And when the season started, the management and coach’s backing helped me do well at full-back… I want to say a huge thank you to Josep Gombau for helping me transform into a full-back from a midfielder so well.”

His move to the right-back and strong performances for Odisha saw him make 17 appearances, 97 clearances, 81 tackles, 28 interceptions, 25 blocks and provide one assist in Hero ISL 2019-20. He will be looking to impress Odisha’s new head coach Stuart Baxter in Hero ISL 2020-21 and hope that he can keep his role at right-back for the club.

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