Futsal is the sport that many of the world’s best footballers have credited for developing them as players in their formative years. It involves five players a side and is played on an indoor court with significantly smaller dimensions than a football pitch. Throw into the mix a smaller, heavier ball and you get a frantic and fast paced sport that greatly helps in developing close control skills with the ball. The likes of Ronaldinho and Neymar have cut their teeth playing futsal and established themselves eventually as world beaters at football. Yash Chugh of Gurgaon, India however, took the other route. Football was his first love, but futsal found him.
Like many teenagers in urban India now fed on a footballing diet of the Premier League and La Liga, Chugh’s fascination with the sport started early. He started playing football when he was about eight years old and those around him realized he had a potent left foot, to add to his natural dribbling skills. “It was always football for me,” he says. “I played in a weekend league which was organized by my school in Gurgaon. I was then sent to a boarding school in Pune where there was a culture of sports and fitness, which really helped me develop as a player for the school team.”
His game grew further at the prestigious Arsenal Soccer School in Singapore, which he joined when he moved there with his family. Training with highly qualified coaches in an organized set-up, he was exposed to a completely new way of training and approaching the game. “I picked up something from each environment I played football in. I was scoring goals for my school team, for the academy, and was really enjoying learning under some of the best coaches. However, it wasn’t till I moved back to India and started training under Mr. Eric Benny (an ex-India international himself) that I really started considering the possibility of a career as a professional footballer.”
Football was Chugh’s first love
An inspiring exposure trip to the famous TATA Football Academy in Jamshedpur followed. When Chugh came back to Gurgaon, he stepped up his training a couple of notches. The U-16 national camp trials were just a few months away, and he was in the middle of selections for the Haryana state team when, after training one day, he felt an odd niggle in his thigh. “It was mild pain at first, but after a couple of days it increased significantly. I decided to go in for an X-ray, and the results were shocking. A black spot, right in the middle of my femur represented a hole the size of a table tennis ball in my bone. I was immediately flown to Pune for a surgery which involved grafting the gap in the bone with one of my floating ribs.”
And that was that.
Recovery is a tricky thing for any athlete. The mental strength required in knowing that one has to essentially start from scratch is only one part of it. Physical conditioning is something completely different, and it is only when those two go hand in hand that the athlete can reach the levels previously attained.
“Football was still somewhere at the back of my mind post my surgery,” he explains. “After school ended, it was on a year long Rotary Youth Exchange Program to Brazil that my life changed. Staying in the land of football, I discovered futsal and how almost everyone in the country played the sport.” It was like a new lease of life for Chugh. As he regained his fitness, he got to grips with the intricacies of the sport which, by the looks of it is just like football, but requires a completely different set of skills with the ball at one’s feet. The speed at which he picked up the sport and played in numerous matches (albeit informal ones) was commendable. It was to hold him in good stead in a few years.
On the Futsal Court
Come 2016, India was to launch its first ever professional futsal league. Premier Futsal was set up, roping in legends of football like Ronaldinho, Hernan Crespo, Cafu and Michel Salgado, and trials were open for any Indian players who wished to play in the league. Sure enough, Chugh used all his experience playing the sport in Brazil and impressed the scouts with his knowledge of the game. He had the grammar of the movements, flicks and tricks down to the T.
The other grammar he picked up was a fluent understanding of Portuguese from his time in Brazil. “The Futsal legend Falcao was in my team in the first season of Premier Futsal, and on the court a knowledge of Portuguese really helped my in-game chemistry with him. In fact, I became the de-facto translator for most of the Brazilians playing in the league! It’s amazing how the dots just finally joined towards the end,” he says.
(Bottom row, second from left) with Falcao, Cafu, Crespo, Scholes and other Indian players in the first season of Premier Futsal
However, the highlight of his growing futsal career was yet to come. Owing to the recognition he gained during the first season of Premier Futsal playing for the Chennai franchise, he earned a call-up to the Indian national futsal team and represented the country at the AMF Intercontinental Cup in Barcelona in 2017. The team gained valuable experience, even though it did not register a win on the tour.
Sitting (second from right) with the Indian Futsal team in Barcelona
That was not all, season two of Premier Futsal saw Chugh representing the Delhi Dragons, who’s marquee player was none other than the legendary Ronaldinho. “To play with him was nothing short of surreal,” Chugh tries to sum up the experience. “He was the world’s best footballer at one point of time, and to play with him, speak with him and learn from him while he was still an active professional was something special, something that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.” Along with Ronaldinho, the Dragons embarked on a run of form which saw them reach the final of the tournament, only to lose out in the end.
Playing with Ronaldinho
From surgery, to playing with Ronaldinho, to becoming one of the faces of Indian futsal, it has been a long journey for Yash Chugh. “I have made the most of every opportunity that has come my way, and I will continue to do that in the future. I have represented my country at what I love doing the most, how can I complain? It has been a special journey,” he concludes.