‘I was on a train to Kolkata, and then Bengaluru happened’

Parag Shrivas Has Only Made A Handful Of Starts For The Bengaluru First Team, But the Versatile Full-Back Says It’s Already More Than He Had Ever Dreamt Of…

His Dad is a cop, his mother makes their home and his younger brother is yet to complete his Mechanical Engineering degree. So how did football happen to Parag Shrivas?

“My dad used to play for the Police team and I was always in attendance to watch his games. To be honest, I never played, and my early education in football came from simply watching him play. He was a full-back, and he’d always fill in at centre-back too. I guess versatility runs in the family,” Parag says.

He was named in the Blues’ Indian Super League squad set to face ATK at the Fortress in the final League stage clash this season, and it wasn’t the first time Parag had been on the boss’ list. Last season, under similar circumstances, Carles Cuadrat had handed the youngster a run out against Jamshedpur FC at the JRD TATA Sports Complex.

Among the Blues’ most versatile players since his addition to the Bengaluru FC B team, Parag has played in various different positions throughout his time here, an attribute he says makes him happy. “It feels really good to be able to plug in at so many positions. Sometimes when the team needs a striker, Moosa sir plays me up front and if it is needed then as a defender.“

After one season with the developmental side, Parag was named the BFC B Player of the Season. A moment he recalls with great fondness. “To receive that trophy was a very special moment for me. I know that everybody in the B Team wants to have that trophy and to win it felt very nice. I had never imagined I’d be able to play on such a big platform and I can only thank the coaches here for that. When I was younger, I’d often be a ball boy at the Balewadi when BFC came to play and I’d always pick BFC’s defensive side near the dugouts because I wanted to see their full-backs play. Throwing the ball to them was a big deal for me, and now I’m sharing a pitch with them. It’s surreal.”

Parag made two starts for the Blues’ this season, appearing in the AFC Cup and the Indian Super League, and even winning the free-kick that led to Dimas Delgado’s goal against ATK at the Fortress. Looking back, the youngster says he’s come a long way in a short time.

“It’s amazing to be able to play for such a big club at my age. When I started playing, I was a midfielder. I used to live in the Police quarters and I had a lot friends to play with. When I was in the seventh grade, my Physical Education teacher suggested that I go for trials to the Balewadi Stadium and I was selected for the football programme there. Two years later, I had the trials with Pune FC,” Parag recalls.

Having joined the academy at Pune FC, Parag shared the field with some of India’s finest young footballers at the time. “I was fortunate to be in the same batch as Sahil Panwar, Ashish Rai and Yasir who is now at Hyderabad FC. Ashique bhai was there too, as was Farukh (Choudhary). They were all my seniors. I was in the U17 academy and they were U19, but we did spend a lot of time together.”

Another familiar face in the Pune FC setup was that of Naushad Moosa, the Head Coach of the U19s. Under Moosa and Ajay Chorge, who is also a part of the youth setup at Bengaluru FC, Parag honed his skills.

“When I finished up my 12th grade, the Pune FC Academy had wound up and I wanted to go to Kolkata and try to get a chance to play in the Calcutta Football League. I had a friend who said he would help me find a club in Kolkata and I didn’t even think twice. I booked my tickets because the chance to play in Kolkata was something I didn’t want to let go of.”

By his own admission, Parag had chosen the trip to Kolkata over one to Bengaluru for trials with the Blues’ Academy. “I’ll be honest, I was on the train to Kolkata when I got a call from Ajay sir, asking me why I wasn’t on my way to Bangalore instead. He convinced me that it was too early to play the Calcutta Football League or to look for first team opportunities. I got off that train in Nagpur and went to the ticket counter again. That’s how Bengaluru happened. It was the best decision I made because my friends went to Kolkata, couldn’t find a club, didn’t even have a place to stay and came back a few weeks later.”

Far from the pitch, Parag shuts himself in his room and focuses on his studies too. The 22-year-old is currently completing his Bachelor’s Degree from an Open University and says that he finds himself in the best place he has ever been.

“Until a few years ago, there was pressure from my family. They were worried that if football didn’t work out, then I’d have to try and find a job, fill some forms or study something. But now they’re happy. They see me on TV or in pictures and they know I’m following my dream. They’re also happy because I’m also completing my education. I’m in my final year now, so when I get home from training I’m trying to finish up on my college work. I’m a few years behind when it comes to education, but if there’s anything that train to Kolkata taught me, it is that it’s never too late to turn back.”