Football is a beautiful game which is celebrated across the world. It is also the game where you can earn the most. But only a few pass through. Besides beaches and sands, Goa is highly associated with football. The Goa Football Association which was called as Associação de Futebol de Goa was founded in 1959 during the Portuguese era. Since then we love football like we love our fish with rice. With the foundation of Hero ISL, new doors of opportunity have opened for the aspiring Goan players to make their passion a profession. We have one such champion among us who, at the age of 8 learnt to play football, and at the age of 18 created history by being the first to graduate from Sporting Clube de Goa (SCG) 2 years back. Meet Akeraj Martins, a young boy from Goa who aspires to make his way in the ISL matches and further represent India for the World Cup.
As rightly said by Colin Powell, “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination, and hard work”. This quote is manifested by the aspiring Akeraj Martins who never expected football to take him to different places. Two years back he made history by being the first sportsman in Goa to have graduated from SCG senior category in July by completing matches U-14, U-16, U-18, U-19 and U-20. That will be the day he will always be remembered in the history of sporting clubs for being the first one.
According to Akeraj, he was first introduced to football at the age of 8 during a Physical Education class, and since then he has always loved playing football in school and at home. Living in the serene village of Dona Paula popular for its history and as a tourist destination, Martins spent his evenings kicking the football with the boys from his village.
In his third standard, he joined the Don Bosco school football team for which he and his teammates were trained to represent the school in the junior category. He found himself drawn to the game and that is when he realized he will not leave school with just classroom education, he will also make his mark on the field. Since then he has been in the school football team all through his years of education in the Don Bosco Institution. With the help of Coach Francis Raposa, he learnt the fundamentals of football and discipline.
He captained the team in the later years for the tenure of a year and won numerous trophies for his school. Through school, he travelled to Kolkata for his first Nationals and to other states like Jharkhand, Mumbai, and Chennai in the U-14 game. His major bonus came when they went to play in Manchester United U-15 match in the year 2010 where he got the chance to play with the foreign players. The highlight for Akeraj was winning the Mir Iqbal Hussein U-15 trophy. The team became 3-time title bearers of the famous Subroto Cup, one of them under his captaincy. Subroto Cup is a famous inter-school Football Tournament in India held annually and organized by the Indian Air Force with the support of Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.
Little did he know that his tricks and kicks would charm the eyes of the SCG. At the age of 13, he signed a contract with the Junior Sporting Club where he underwent additional training under Coach Mathew D’Costa. Since then he has been playing for the club (Junior and Senior) for nine years now as their striker on the pitch. He turned down many offers by Salgaonkar, Dempo and FC Goa Proleague.
His journey from the junior team to the senior team was not a piece of cake. During his selection time, Martins came across many obstacles that were hindering from making his way to the final 11. Even though he signed for the club, he was kept out of the team because of his low performances and skills. “To be in the team you should be at a certain level; you should have the qualities, determination and a strong will to accomplish your goal despite any difficulties. Just because you lose the first and the second time does not mean you give up a trial for the third time” he says. Headstrong and hardcore, Martins knew that there was a spot for him in the main 11 and hence he worked day and night to win his spot which he eventually secured.
Akeraj was never stopped by his parents to follow his dreams. He says, “My parents are very supportive of my passion. They allow me to play even when they know that I have to trade my classes for football matches”. Being the only sportsperson in the family, Akeraj has made his family proud by becoming what he is today. “During the time of selection when I felt dejected and low, my father would console me and tell me to work even harder. He used to tell me to give my best and leave it up to God. Luckily, Your God is Shiva but my God is my father. He is the reason I wanted to work hard”. Besides that, he follows the football gem of the Argentina team Lionel Messi from whom he has picked up similar dodge and dribble tricks.
His first mentor Raposo and his father keep pushing him forward to reach a higher peak. In time, he became the captain of the team for the tenure of 3 years and worked with his team to realise the importance of teamwork, hard work, and self-motivation. Over the years his love and passion for football grew profoundly. His best performance game according to him was the Santosh Trophy wherein he got the chance to represent Goa. They lost against West Bengal 1-0 but emerged as Runners Up.
Looking back at his school days he unfolds his school journey with us, “I was scarcely seen in college but was seen more on the field. However, I always made it a point to keep up with the class work including assignments and projects. I also made sure to score good marks in my exams so that people don’t get a chance to say that football is ruining my education”. Nevertheless, there were times when he had to sacrifice football for important things in life.
Akeraj has come a long way ever since. He considers himself lucky to have had the opportunity to be a part of SCG because the journey helped him polish his skills and also offered insight into different dimensions of the sporting world. Likewise the same can’t be said about the government-run Directorate of Sports and Youth Affairs. “Although we were provided with necessary amenities yet there were times and things which the government were unsuccessful to provide to the sportspersons”.
In a country where cricket rules the masses, football paved its way to the hearts of people by the introduction of Hero Indian Super League that takes place from November to March. Even though we have international players in the Indian team, it’s creating a sense of competitiveness among the budding as well as state players to reach the mark. Sadly, India was disqualified after losing the second match to win the ticket to the 2018 FIFA world cup. Commenting on the same, Martins says, “FIFA is altogether a different level to reach. One has to work tremendously hard and have good coordination with the team”.
Akeraj also happens to be a good dancer. During his school days, he participated in dance competitions when he did not have matches to play. But he likes to keep the gift to himself and bring it to surface only when needed. Speaking of his interests other than football, he loves travelling to different places which have been made possible because of football. He also has a soft spot for animals specifically cats.
Akeraj aspires to represent India for the World Cup one day but first, he dreams of representing Goa in the ISL matches. Goa has its team ‘Football Club Goa’ (FC Goa) consisting of native as well as foreign players. He lives and follows only two mantras to success – sheer determination and hard work. “If you believe that you can do it, you will do it. Sometimes you only need your own being to push further to attain milestones and when you are a leader, you are in this together.”
During the off-season time, Akeraj and his team practice 2 hours every day, for the next match. In his football career, he has approximately scored more than 200 goals. We wish Akeraj Martins and his team all success in their future endeavours.