A self-confessed “decent player” in his heyday, Raja Prasath has been using his current period to deepen the knowledge of his profession. The assistant coach has been following in the footsteps of Sathish Kumar football vision, with which he earned a lot of appreciation at Jeppiaar Engineering College, Chennai.
Despite starting his sporting career in athletics, football is in the blood of Raja Prashath and has been a big passion for him. Shortly after graduating from Jeppiaar Engineering College, he began to find ways to stay involved with the sport he truly loves.
Raja Prasath spoke to Fisto Sports on his opportunity to return to Jeppiaar Engineering College and the transition from a player to a coach with the team.
Academy of International Style Play days
Growing up in Trichy, with the desire of being a professional athlete himself, Sathish eventually switched to kicking football when his Tamil teacher Daniel asked him to take a shot with his right foot more often. That’s when he took the sport more seriously and fell in love with the process of playing more.
“I started playing football in my 6th grade. I did enjoy athletics from time to time till 10th grade, but once I got into football, I fell in love with the beautiful game and my passion for the sport has been growing ever since,” said Raja.
When he was studying 7th at RSK Matriculation School, Trichy, young Raja’s dedication to football was rewarded when he was selected as one of 30 best young footballers from various parts of Tamil Nadu to represent the International Style Play academy.
I was fortunate to be selected as one of the candidate. All of the 30 were divided into four groups and trained under four different coaches. Yearly, there would be five camps where I would take 15-20 days off from my studies. My school were very much supportive in the process till I finish my 12th standard which helped me to learn the sport in a professional manner.”
During the times he played four nationals and after school his football took a back-seat due to spinal injury. Then, he played form for SET, Seed Academy for several years before joining in Jeppiaar Engineering College through sports quota which he saw in a newspaper advertisement.
In his college days, Raja played as a striker and was a 4-year starter. After seeing Jeppiaar Engg. College win a national title his freshman year, he stepped onto the pitch and delivered a winning goal on his debut against Ramachandra Medical College and since then he says that he ‘was never substituted in the next three year’.
During his college days, he played as a striker role and he would go on to finish his career helping the team won multiple tournament titles including the sensational an almost unbeaten run in 2014, where Jeppiaar won all the tournament they participated except the Baku (YMCA) tournament. Raja made it to local, state and national tourney three of the four years he was a part of the team.
Though, he played as a striker, he says that his main quality is not scoring from the inside box or tap-ins but the long range bullet shot.
When asked about his favorite goal he scored for his college, Raja replies the belter he scored in SRM League finals against rivals Sathyabhama Engineering College which ultimately won them the match and the title.
“It was a phenomenal game and environment. To see my guys come together and pull it out, then to watch team mates storm the pitch, was euphoric. That season’s journey ranks up there with some of the best.”
His playing career also included two years in AGORC FC and first division stint as a starting striker for Kancheepuram and Rangoon F.C before taking a break and playing in the local 7s tournament.
Having been a part of some good teams that have accomplished some amazing feats over the course of his career gives Raja very good perspective to return to Jeppiaar to coach the young team. As his coaching stint also began in Jeppiaar Engineering College, when he received a call from Abilash, the sports director, an opportunity opened up for his to return to his college and join the Jeppiaar Sports Academy program as an assistant coach, working under his former head coach in Sathish Kumar.
Clearly a self-starter, with the important campaign rapidly approaching in 2017 and the head coach temporarily unavailable, Raja stepped in to take a session in the lead-up to an important Reliance Foundation Youth Sports Football Tournament which they wound up winning the Chennai finals. While on the road, Raja learned little nuances of coaching through the eyes of Savio Medeira,former Indian football coach.
‘We play really excellent football’
Raja says Jeppiaar playing style is unique and successful, “we place a lot of emphasis on the basics and on technique. We work very hard on play with couple of touches, nothing sort of unwanted dribbling involved and coach intensively in these areas.”
“Take looking over your shoulder as an example: every player looks over his shoulder three times before receiving the ball. So he knows what’s going on behind him. I find that pretty impressive, and fascinating.”
“I think we play really excellent football. We play offensively and had some great games at the RFYS Football last year,” he added.
In terms of how much his college experiences have actually helped tune him into the intricacies and challenges of managing a team from player to the coach, Raja feels it is a valuable apparatus to not only better understand the beautiful game for everyone but for prospective managers to test out their theories, tactics and suspicions without fear of ridicule or defeat.
“And yes, of course, Sathish (head coach) has helped me as you often emulate what you see on the field when you’re watching football inside the game when you get home.”
“Sometimes, we will keep an eye on European clubs like Barcelona’s rondo drills as it’s important to be looking out for new trends and developments in football. I also share my findings with the head coach and he decides what to do with the information,” he said.
As impressive an accomplishment as Raja’s story is – appropriately, it mirrors the adventurous nature transition of player-to -coach to a far sharper degree because it’s all about the desire to take a relative unknown and dauntlessly attempt to transform the team and Raja is one such example of grooming the young football stars of tomorrow.
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