Image Credits: Indian Football
Kanan Priolkar, a recently-retired footballer, who was finding it hard to make ends meet was about to leave India for a job, which was not even remotely related to the beautiful game, that would help him make ends meet. Kanan Priolkar may have been an AIFF coach for four years now, but the 43-year-old has had to fight his way back from some major setbacks in his footballing career. Growing up in the small village-island of Diwar, off the coast of Goa, Priolkar got inspired to play the sport through his elder brother, who’s kit he used to carry to the local games. However, the little boy soon started to show some flair of his own, and came to be known as one of the fastest forwards in the local circuit.
Having joined the then Sesa Sports Club in his early days, Priolkar developed a formidable partnership up front, alongside former India international Alvito D’Cunha. However, the stay in Sesa was short-lived, as the club shut down in 1999 and became a dedicated football academy.
“We had a really good team back then, and we nearly made it to the top-tier NFL (National Football League). We had beaten tough clubs like Tollygunge Agragami, who were also fighting for promotion, and even gave a tough fight to Mohun Bagan in the Rovers Cup,” recalled Priolkar. However, it was when he moved to Dempo SC for a couple of seasons, that he started his first partnership with Bibiano Fernandes, who is currently the Head Coach of the India U-15 side. “Yes, we have actually crossed each other’s paths quite a few times, now,” Priolkar said with a laugh.
“We played together in Dempo, then in Sporting, then we did our coaching licenses together, and I also worked as the Assistant Coach under him at Cavelossim FC during our early days in coaching, before finally taking up the India U-15 and U-16 sides together.” However, things were to take a much darker turn for the nimble-footed forward.
AN INJURY THAT CUT KANAN’S CAREER SHORT
Having play for Sporting Clube de Goa, in his last five years of top-flight football, Priolkar went on to ply his trade in the local leagues in his last few years in the sport.
While under normal circumstances he would have gone on to play a few more years, the forward was forced into early retirement due to a recurring knee injury, something that prevented him from joining the India U-21 camp, earlier in his career; this was to be the only occasion when he was called up for a National Team. “My knee had recovered after the surgery, but I was yet to get back to full fitness. And we did not really have physios to help us speed-up the recovery process back in those days,” said Priolkar.
“I had joined the camp for the first couple of days, but then I soon realised that I was a long way off, so I told the coaches that I needed more time for the knee to heal.” Later on, it was the same knee that forced Priolkar into early retirement, and that was when the tough times began.
“Football was not as lucrative back then, as it is nowadays. We would only earn a few thousand Rupees’ salary, which is why I needed to find a job after I retired from football. And frankly, I was a bit lost and had had no idea with regards to what to do with the rest of my life,” he said.
Priolkar tried his hand at a number of things from Hotel Management to being a trainer at gyms. The former Dempo and Sporting attacker even considered moving abroad to find a job that would pay him well. “Those were really tough times for me. I had even made it all the way to the Delhi Airport, and was about to go abroad, but those opportunities did not materialise,” said Priolkar.
EVERY DARK CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING
Shuttling from one job to another, struggling to make ends meet, Priolkar finally found his silver lining almost four years after he hung up his boots. The former footballer came to know of an AIFF C License Course that was being conducted in his hometown, and immediately signed up.
There was no looking back from this. “I am actually happy that those opportunities abroad never really materialised,” laughed Priolkar. “It meant that I finally crossed paths with football once again, and once I got my C License done, I knew the path down which I would go.
“Retired footballers did not have so many opportunities in the game earlier on. But over the last decade, the football industry has grown in the country, and we can see that clubs and national teams have age-group squads across so many levels,” he continued. “Even something as simple as Grassroots Football requires a coach.” There was no looking back for Priolkar, who had left the tough times way behind him.
Having coached the junior teams at Vasco SC, Brazil Football Academy, Cavelossim and Dempo, Priolkar's aptitude as a coach were taken notice of, by former Technical Director Scott O'Donnell. "Thanks to Scott that the three of us -- Bibiano, Floyd (Pinto, India U-19 Head Coach), and myself were brought into the AIFF coaching fraternity," he said.
Injuries may have dented his playing career, but Priolkar has been to the abyss, and back again with the help of coaching. “It has been an absolute rollercoaster of a journey for me. But my focus is now purely bringing talented kids through the ranks in the India U-15 team,” Priolkar rounded off.