From despair to hope: The Story of Anwar Ali’s indomitable comeback
India and FC Goa defender Anwar Ali has reached remarkable heights in his career – but, his journey stands apart from the common narrative that most modern footballers share.
Ali is one such defender who has demonstrated his match-reading prowess from a young age. He possesses strength, confidence, and elegance all at once, effortlessly executing every action with remarkable ease.
The Punjab-born centre-back emerged as a shining star for the national team during the 2017 U17 FIFA World Cup held in India. Unfortunately, in 2019, the defender faced a major setback after he was diagnosed with a rare heart condition, posing a risk that his football days could be over.
However, Ali didn't give up; instead, he kept striding forward with the determination to make a comeback, despite facing numerous medical and legal issues. After careful deliberation, he was eventually granted permission to resume his career following a hiatus of over a year.
In the January transfer window of 2022, Ali joined Hero Indian Super League (ISL) side FC Goa and made his debut against Chennaiyin FC. He quickly made a mark with his play, earning major applause, and eventually received a call-up for the senior national team in March 2022.
The 22-year-old, who is currently gearing up for the upcoming Hero Intercontinental Cup and the SAFF Championship, reminisced about that challenging phase in his life.
“That was a very difficult phase of my life. Everything looked set before that – I had a good time in junior football and was looking forward to playing the Hero ISL and maybe making the senior national team one day. But now I was being told that I could not play football anymore,” Anwar shared in an interaction with the-aiff.com.
“It was a very stressful time for me, and we were going door to door, in order to find different avenues for me to continue playing. There was a point when even I gave up, but my family supported me through the whole thing. I also had so much support from my club, and finally got the clearance to play in 2021,” he added.
“It’s not easy to come through such periods, but thankfully I had some very supportive people around me, who helped me through thick and thin,” stated the defender.
Despite all the struggles and hurdles, he achieved his dream of making it into the senior national team and playing for the country. He marked his debut on 23rd March in a 2-1 defeat against Bahrain, and later on 14th June, he scored his first international goal in a 4-0 victory against Hong Kong during the 2023 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers in Kolkata.
Reflecting on his senior national team debut, he said, “That was a big moment for me. Playing for the senior national team has always been a goal, ever since I was a kid, but getting the chance after all this struggle made it even more special. But such hard times also make you wary and more levelheaded. I know that I must keep working hard in order to stay in the team. The Asian Cup next year is one of my targets, and I want to be in the squad when we play.”
Not only did he play a crucial role in helping India secure qualification for the AFC Asian Cup 2023, but Anwar also had a moment of redemption when India lifted the Hero Tri-Nation Cup in Imphal, earlier this year – his first trophy in international football.
After playing a significant role for the national team in the qualifiers, Ali displayed growth in maturity and had a tremendous impact on his club in the recently concluded Hero ISL season. The defender featured in all 20 matches of the league, recording 36 tackles, 25 interceptions, 80 clearances, and 34 blocks. In addition to his crucial defensive contributions, he proved valuable in attack during set-pieces, scoring one goal and providing two assists.
“This last year has been nothing short of amazing. Coming from a point of absolute despair to playing professional football again, and then playing for the national team, it’s been quite special. The Hero Tri-Nation was also a special moment for me personally. I have not yet won that many trophies in my career, and winning a medal for the National Team was a great feeling,” Ali stated.
The Indian national team is all set to participate in two tournaments, the Hero Intercontinental Cup and the SAFF Championships, as part of their preparation for the AFC Asian Cup. The centre-back is now fully focused on the upcoming tournaments, with a keen eye set on the continental championship scheduled for next year.
“We are all really motivated for the two tournaments ahead. Everyone is focusing on the AFC Asian Cup, where we want to do well. Of course, we will be facing some very good sides, who have a lot of strong points, but we also have our own strengths, which we will of course, play to,” he said.
Anwar Ali is a true fighter with a never-give-up attitude. Despite all the uncertainties, he made an indomitable comeback, providing us with a valuable lesson on resilience.
“We all face some struggles or the other, in our life. Some of us are more than others, but we should never give up. I was on the point of giving up, but had some very good people around me, who helped me out. I just hope the same for everyone else too,” Ali signed off.