Published: 22nd November 2018
How Michael Soosairaj made it from Kanyakumari to Jamshedpur FC and is taking Indian football by storm
Soosairaj opens up about his childhood in Kanyakumari, how he made it to pro football and some crazy fan moments — and why playing for the Indian football team is the ultimate goal
It was an intense night on November 1 at the JRD Tata Sports Complex as Jamshedpur FC took on Goa. But one goal in the 17th minute by Michael Soosairaj got the hopes up for the home crowd. Another goal in the 50th minute and the 22,000 people in the stadium began chanting his name. The 24-year-old was the star of the night. With three ‘Emerging Player’ awards and one ‘Hero of the Match’ award, Soosairaj is a force to be reckoned with. In a conversation, he tells us more about his childhood, his favourite moments at the I-League and ISL, and some crazy fan moments. Excerpts:
Where did you grow up and when did you first start playing football?
I grew up in Kanyakumari. I have three older brothers who were all footballers. I grew up watching them play so I started at a very young age. Our father is a fisherman and so we lived near the coast. We used to play on the beach a lot. My brothers still play professionally for the Railways. Football is the only game that is played in our village. After my eighth grade, I joined the Tiruchy Sports hostel, where I got the opportunity to compete in tournaments. I then decided to move to Chennai for high school because there were plenty more opportunities there. I joined a Chennai club called Arrows. That was my first professional experience. Then I was called to play for Chennai City FC in the I-League. Initially, I didn’t get to play any games. It was only the last four matches of the season that I got to play. I was also awarded the ‘Hero of the Match’ award. So in the second season, I was more confident. That was followed by my entry into ISL. I signed up with Jamshedpur FC in June this year.
First steps: In January 2017, Soosairaj made his professional debut in the I-League for Chennai City
What factors do you consider before signing up with a club?
After the I-League season, I got an offer from four ISL clubs - Chennaiyin FC, Northeast United, ATK and Jamshedpur. My brothers told me to sign up with Chennaiyin FC because it’s my home club. But I got a better offer from Jamshedpur. It’s as simple as that. I had to go with the better offer. Also, Jamshedpur was sponsored by TATA. It’s a popular brand and it would be good to be associated with it.
What is the one thing that you look forward to in terms of your career?
In the I-League, many people told me I would get to represent India because I was performing well. But that didn’t happen. So my dream now is just to represent India. Once I do that, I’ll be satisfied because no one from my community has ever got to play even an ISL match, let alone represent India.
How many matches have you played so far?
I’ve played 6 matches in ISL so far. Apart from that, I’ve played close to 30 professional matches and scored 8 goals.
Who is your role model?
I grew up idolising Ronaldo. I love his game style and his dedication. But more than that, I look up to my brothers. While they were growing up, there were no opportunities like I have, which is why they had to take up government jobs.
All smiles: Soosairaj poses with the captain of the Indian football team, Sunil Chhetri
Are you satisfied with the facilities provided at your club?
Jamshedpur FC has their own facilities, from the training ground to swimming pool and other facilities. So I have no complaints.
What’s your favourite moment so far?
It was my first goal in the I-League for Chennai City against Punjab. That’s what got the country to recognise me. I’ll never be able to forget that moment.
In the recent match against Goa, how did it feel when people chanted your name?
The first four matches before that were a draw. I got the ‘Emerging Player’ award in the first three matches. But in that particular match, I won the ‘Hero of the Match award’. I was new to ISL. It is more difficult to get into the Jamshedpur club than to get into the Indian team, because they have really good players. So when I scored the second goal and everyone started chanting my name, I had goosebumps. It was a surreal moment. I couldn’t believe it.
What was it like interacting with foreign football players?
It was difficult at first because the styles of playing are different. But then we travelled together, got used to each other’s styles and got along well. It’s been a great experience.
Tell us a bit about your training.
My mantra is to always go the extra mile if you want to stand out. If I’m asked to run 100 metres, I would run another few metres. The more effort you put into training, the better the results you’ll see on the field.
Power zone: Soosairaj's main position is Attacking Midfield. His other primary positions are Central Midfield and Left Winger
What was it like to captain a team?
It’s funny. I don’t know why I’ve always been selected to be the captain, be it in college-level games or at the I-League. I was a bit scared initially because there were other senior players. I was scared that I’ll be questioned if anything goes wrong. But now I’ve become more confident.
Have you had any crazy fan moments?
In my most recent match with Jamshedpur against Goa. I received a text message from someone saying that she’s a big fan of mine. The next day, I got a call from the security saying that my relatives had come to see me. I thought to myself, “There’s no way my relatives would travel so far.” So I went to the gate, only to find this girl and her friend there. She apologised and said the only way to see me was to tell them we were related. She had come to get a jersey from me. So I gifted her one. I almost had a heart attack. Never expected that.
What is the future of Indian football?
There is great scope. There are a lot of great players that are not being identified. If that happens, we can go a long way, maybe even win the World Cup.