(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express)
Budding footballer Evans Thomas is all excited about taking part in a week-long training programme with F.C. Barcelona, one of the world's top clubs
The video, shot by Evans Thomas himself, opens on the Choice School football field. Thomas dribbles past three defenders, the ball firmly in control and heads towards goal. Then the camera moves inside a room and focuses on his bare feet as he lobs the ball up and down.
Then it cuts back to the action on the football field, where he is still dribbling. Then to the marble floor of his dining room in his house in Edapally: he is passing the ball from the left to the right feet and back again (all this is accompanied by the throbbing music of Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’).
Now he is outside, in front of the garage, juggling the ball, then back again in the dining room and then suddenly it cuts to a shot on the field. Thomas takes a shot and the ball hits the roof of the net like a missile. Even to the untrained eye, it is obvious that this 16-year-old lad has oodles of natural talent.
It is this one-minute video, now uploaded on You Tube, under the title, 'Evans Thomas', that won Thomas selection for the Nike-sponsored 'Where's The Next' contest, to unearth footballing
talent in Asia.
Ten boys were selected from all over India based on these videos and were brought to Delhi. They were divided into two teams, and the match was watched by former Indian football captain Baichung Bhutia.
"I showed what I normally do: I did some good dribbling and gave a lot of passes and through balls," says Thomas. "I helped a lot of my teammates score goals. At the end, Bhutia called us and said I was selected. However, he said, 'The match was played for only half an hour. It is too little time to judge a player.'"
Nevertheless, Thomas was elated. "In fact, I am dazed," he says. "The whole thing is slowly sinking in."
He is the only Indian in a 16-member team which comprises players from countries like South Korea, China and Japan. At the end of this month, they will go for a week’s training with the coaches at F.C. Barcelona, one of the top clubs in the world.
Says elder brother Rajpaul: "Evans will train with the B team. Both the English and Spanish clubs have A, B and C teams. If the club is impressed with his performance, he will be recruited to the B team. This is a search for talent: Who is going to be the next Ronaldinho?"
Thomas is the second son of affluent businessman P.E. Thomas. There are some sporting genes in the family: His mother, Jolly, was the captain of the college basketball team. Rajpaul, who studied in Montfort in Yercaud, has played for the Tamil Nadu state football team in the junior, as well as the senior team. Now, he has given up on the game and is concentrating on his mechanical engineering course at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Dubai.
But Thomas wants to pursue a career in football. "My parents may agree after this Barcelona trip," he says.
His mother, Jolly, says, "Till this selection happened, we were dead against him playing football, because of the Board exams in six months time [Thomas is in Class 12]."
But a supportive Molly Cyril, the principal of Choice School, says: "Thomas has maintained a good level in his academics. He is not only talented in football but is also a good guitarist."
When Thomas hears this, he smiles and says, “I want to concentrate on football now.” On weekends, he plays with a local outfit, G.C. Kaloor, at the St. Albert’s College grounds, near the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium.
So what is it about the game that has made him play it from the age of seven?
"If you feel down and you play, you feel good,” he says. “Football is like life. If there is an obstacle in front, you try to work your way around it. And then you try to achieve your goal.
“Another lesson that I have learned is that you cannot make it through life on your own. To achieve your goals, you need teammates and other people."
The ‘other people’, in this instance, is Nike.
So what is the company’s reasoning behind ‘Where’s the Next’?
“Nike wants to give an impetus to the grassroots of the game in India,” says Sanjay Gangopadhyay, Marketing Director, Nike India. “F.C. Barcelona is one of the most popular clubs in Asia. So, we see this as an opportunity to feed the passion for football and to provide a premium experience for some of the most talented teens in the country.”
So, thanks to the global footwear giant, one Kochi talent has a chance to blossom.