The Telegraph
Monday , June 9 , 2014
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Maradona, three juniors and a club called Boca

Yohan Confectioner and Diego Armando Maradona will soon be bound by a thread called Boca Juniors, the club where the Argentine great had signed up three decades ago when he was the same age as the 21-year-old Calcuttan.

He and two other boys from the city have been selected from among 4,000 participants after a gruelling six-month competition across India and a coaching camp in Goa for an intense two-week training session at the most successful South American club in August.

Yohan, who has recently graduated from St. Xavier’s College, Liam Bain, a 17-year-old Class XII student of Frank Anthony Public School, and Mojaffar Ali have made the 15-man shortlist.

“Argentina still feels like a dream. Maradona, Messi and Mojaffar!” exclaimed the 20-year-old student of Barasat College.

The 109-year-old Boca Juniors club has won the domestic league a record 30 times and produced legends and stars like Maradona, Juan Sebastian Veron, Argentina’s all-time highest goal-scorer Gabriel Batistuta and prolific striker Carlos Tevez.

Yohan, Liam and Mojaffar had made the cut through the club’s scouting initiative, IFB-Boca Football Champs, which attracted students of 270 schools and 186 colleges from eight cities across the country.

They battled it out in their cities during preliminaries before the Goa finals in May. Barasat College pipped St. Xavier’s College at the post to emerge champions among 16 colleges in the Calcutta round. Jhargram High School topped the schools.

Mojaffar reached the Goa finals as part of the winning team, Liam and Yohan were picked for a simultaneous training camp meant for the two best footballers from each city. The other cities in the fray were Chandigarh, Delhi, Shillong, Pune, Goa, Bangalore and Kozhikode.

“It’s as much a victory for me as it is for my father who is a huge Maradona fan. It was he who introduced me to football and the football legend,” said Yohan, a resident of Lenin Sarani who has grown up idolising Team Argentina and the dribbling skills of Batistuta and Lionel Messi.

He first kicked the ball as a toddler at La Martiniere for Boys and grew up representing the school and Parsee Club until former footballer and coach Jamshid Nassiri spotted him and honed him as a forward.

Yohan now plays for Calcutta Football Club, a second-division outfit.

Mojaffar, too, was a Nassiri find. The coach recognised his talent at a training camp in 2008.

After starting as a junior at Netaji Sainik Bahini in Ganganagar near Barasat, he quickly rose through the ranks and represented Mumbai FC in the junior I-League and Kalighat Club in 2013.

He specialises as an attacking midfielder and has modelled himself on Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and East Bengal skipper Mehtab Hossain. “Getting a chance to go to Argentina is a huge honour because that is one country everyone in my neighbourhood and family has heard about and respect for its football prowess,” said Mojaffar.

The youngest of the three, Liam, is the toast of the school for his football and, er, cricket skills.

An accomplished attacking opening batsman for Rangers Club, he is more acknowledged for his prowess on the football field. “I have heard of Boca Juniors because of FIFA (virtual game) and have played with them virtually but never thought I would actually land there one day,” said the Palm Avenue resident.

He started young — at 8 — and learned the ropes at Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (CC&FC). He hopes that a stint with the Argentine giants will help him gain better tactical understanding of the game.

They already had a taste of the difference in training methods between Indian and Argentine coaches during their weeklong camp in Goa where experts from Boca Juniors gave them useful tips.

“We realised that the emphasis in Calcutta is always on physical training. The Argentine coaches taught us to think tactically and helped us grasp the strategic aspect better,” said Yohan.

“Even during physical training, the coaches made sure we always trained with the ball irrespective of the drill. This was aimed at improving the co-ordination between body and ball,” added Liam.

The boys will not only train alongside the junior team at the youth academy but also play a number of friendlies with youngsters from other clubs. They will get to watch a couple of Boca Juniors matches on the home ground, the imposing La Bombonera stadium.

Alejandro Javier Blasco, one of the coaches who trained the boys in Goa, said they had doubts about the quality of the players they would encounter in India but “are very pleased with the results and efforts of the boys”.

“We are sure that the players travelling to Argentina are prepared to face the next challenge,” he said.