JOTHI KUMAR, an attacking midfielder and a star of Kolkatas Mohammedan Sporting Club football team joined the Young Mens Social Club (YMSC) in 1999 at the age of 16. Under the caring guidance of Elangovan, his coach, and by sheer dint of merit, Jothi soon rose from his humble beginnings in Chennai to emerge as a rising star in professional football. His recent accomplishments on the football field have not clouded his memory of what he received from his old club and coach. He [Elangovan] only has the welfare of the players in mind, and our success is what makes him happy. He is a great man, Jothi told Frontline in an exclusive interview.
You are one of the success stories to have come out of the YMSC. Please tell us something about your experience there.
It is a very good club and had a good team too, with quite a few players from outside Chennai playing for it. The coach, Elangovan, is also very happy that some players like myself who have risen from the club are playing in the professional league. When I first joined the club, there were only two players who had gone on to play professional league from there. Now I think there are eight.
How much of your success do you owe to the YMSC?
The YMSC helped me immensely. I also gave my 100 per cent. As I said, it was a very good team when I joined, but it is sadly declining now as the good players are moving out on lucrative deals. The YMSC would also give us money, but that was more as an additional help in our lives.What about your former coach, Elangovan?
Elangovan sir is a very good man, but he does not have enough money, nor does he have the means to get more money for the club. His interest is in football and in seeing his boys go outside and do well for themselves. He has never even asked anybody to stay on in the club for his sake.
I cannot put it into words how much I owe him. He had enormous confidence in me. Right from the beginning, he maintained that I would be selected in any of the teams in the professional league. Not merely encouragement, he would recommend my name to various clubs.
Elangovan sir would spend his own money. He does not get sponsors and he never asks anybody for any money. And mind you, he is not a rich man, he does not hold any lucrative post anywhere, and yet he runs the team with practically his own salary. Managing one team in this manner is so difficult, but he manages two the YMSC and the Chennai Soccer Club. But he always looks out for the best for his players. If you play well, you will get the opportunity to go and play outside. You are under no obligation to stay on with the club, he would tell us. He only has the welfare of the players in mind and our success is what makes him happy. He is a great man.
How important do you think an organisation like the YMSC is for society?
I think it is of great importance. It does not matter how young a player is or where he comes from; he will get practice, he will get food, and when the opportunity comes for him to play in a bigger club, he will not be held back. The YMSC has helped a boy like me so much.
You see, there are some clubs where you can get practice and food after that, but in the YMSC you also get good advice. It is incredibly supportive. It is a club for everyone.
Who are your favourite players, both in Indian and international football?
On the Indian football scene, I like Jose Rameirez Barreto [of Mohun Bagan], Theodore Sunday [formerly of Mohammedan Sporting], and Mike Okoro [striker for Mohammedan Sporting]. These are foreign players playing in the Indian league. As for Indian players, there are too many to name. My favourite international player, of course, is Ronaldinho [Brazilian international]. Like him, I play in the midfield position, and that is also one of the reasons why I like him so much [smiles].