On October 3, Bengaluru’s 18-year-old Ishan Pandita became the first Indian footballer to sign a professional contract with a club in La Liga or the Spanish League.
Ishan’s professional football career truly kicked off when he moved to Spain three years ago, joined the Under-19 team at the newly promoted CD Leganes, which currently sits on the 11th position in La Liga table.
At the Estadio Municipal de Butarque, he was given the No.50 jersey with blue-and-white stripes, by club owner and vice-president Felipe Moreno.
He told The Times of India, “”It’s been a tough, hard three years here in Spain but at the end, it was all worth it. It feels great to be the first Indian to go down this path. Right from the moment I decided to take a break from studies till now, I never gave up on my dream.”
According to reports, Ishan moved to the Philippines at a very young age, where he became interested in football through numerous sessions under the guidance of British coaches. He shifted to Bengaluru along with his family in 2009, where he was acknowledged as one of the best players in his school. Soon enough, he was serving as the school football team captain and he even featured as a player in some of the local clubs.
Things started working out in Ishan’s favour when he competed against 2,000 young footballers during a talent hunt organised by the legendary football club, Manchester United. He was picked as the ‘Airtel Rising Star’ at this event organised in Bengaluru. In 2013, at the Gothia Cup in Sweden, Ishan’s stellar performance was appreciated by talent scouts for a local club; they later invited him to participate in the Under-17 trials.
Around this time, Ishan began to feel that he should look for superior facilities abroad where he could better hone his football skills. He informed his parents that he intended on taking a sabbatical to focus on his budding professional career in football.
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He was mocked relentlessly for making this decision. Yet, he moved to Spain and began training with the Intersoccer Madrid Football Academy, which helped him secure a stint with Alcobendas FC, a feeder club for Atletico Madrid.
Later, he was selected to sign a professional contract with UD Almeria, after featuring in the club’s Under-18 team, but he didn’t make the cut because of FIFA’s protection-of-minors clause, which explicitly bars the international transfer of non-Europeans unless they are 18 years or older. Ishan told The Hindu, “I had trials at Getafe (currently in the second tier) in March, and I was very close to signing with them. But they got relegated at the end of the season. The whole point for me was to sign for a La Liga club and then Leganes showed interest.”
Currently, he is playing for Leganes in the 2016-17 season of the Division de Honor Juvenil, in which Ishan will get to compete with Under-19 players from prestigious teams such as Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. He told TOI, “”We’ve got a new field for the youth players since we moved to La Liga. The facilities are state of-the-art and we have a fantastic coaching and support staff. We get a lot of attention and in every training programme, they make you feel as professional as possible. More importantly, everyone is equal here.”
Know more about him here.