She has the best vision, is agile and always watching the ball and most importantly her height has added all the ingredients to make her a perfect choice under the Indian bar. Aditi Chauhan, the Indian women’s football team’s goalkeeper is all set for the mega event the AFC Women’s Asia Cupwhich gets under way in Mumbai/Pune from January 20.
Described one of the important positions in this game and the tough job, Aditi is geared up for the show down when India take on Iran in their opener, in Navi Mumbai on January 20.
Aditi, was the member of the Gokulam Kerala FC which won the Indian Women’s League (2019-20), and is the second Indian woman footballer to land a professional contract with a European outfit after Bala Devi who donned the Scottish club Rangers Women’s FC colours. A soft spoken and very serious when it comes to football, Aditi spoke to FPJ about her journey and the way women’s football has changed globally.
You have been a revolution in Indian football. Especially women, What was the motivating factor?
Aditi: Back when I was younger, we did not know any girl around us who had played football to a certain level and for my parents, there was the concern of physical safety as well. It is a contact sport, and they were always afraid that I’d get hurt. There was also the aspect of facing society and we had to convince not just society, but my school as well that I’d be playing the sport. As a goalkeeper, you constantly have to dive and put your body on the line as well. It wasn’t much of me convincing them with words, but it was more of me convincing them with my performance on the pitch. I guess the turning point was when I got my India jersey for the first time. I come from a military background, where my dad has served the CRPF and worked for the nation, so when I got the India jersey, that’s when they understood that this is something that I could do.
About the AFC Cup. Is it going to open a new leaf in Indian women football? And what is that, apart from winning, that you are looking forward to?
Aditi: We are all very excited. We know how big an opportunity this is and that the whole world will be watching us. Women's football is developing fast all over the world and we are also aiming high. We want to qualify for the quarterfinals and in turn the 2023 Women's World Cup, and build a platform for upcoming Indian football players. It is a great opportunity for us to prove the potential of women's football in India which will put us on the world map of the women’s game. This is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to show what we are capable of, attract more supporters and inspire the younger generation. Considering the improving standards of women's football today, we cannot afford to underestimate any team. We have seen lower ranked teams outperform higher ranked ones in the last few years so we will be taking it one game at a time, starting with the first one against Iran.
What is it being a goalkeeper? One miss could tarnish the image. Is it a thankless role or something different?
Aditi: Goalkeepers play a very important role on the pitch. They are like anchors who can guide the rest of the team and motivate them. The outfield players also gain confidence when they know there is a good goalkeeper behind them and can focus on playing their part. But ’keepers can't do it all alone and the team needs to function as a single unit to help each other out. I believe a goalkeeper needs to have a presence or aura which helps the team perform better.
Masters in Sports Management from Loughborough University in London how has it helped you in making what you are today?
Aditi: I was really happy to be able to play for Loughborough University, as it is one of the top sports universities. At the end of the season, I even got the ‘Manager’s Player Award’ as an appreciation for my performance during the season. It definitely helped me improve as a player, which helped me during my trials at Millwall Ladies as well as West Ham Ladies. I consider myself lucky to have studied and played abroad. There’s a lot of potential in Indian players who can go abroad and put on a good show. If women start playing matches on a regular basis, we can all go a long way.
What is sports for you and what is the message you have for many budding players in the wings?
Aditi: Playing different sports helps mould you, and adapt very quickly. A lot of movements come naturally, and there are little things that you don’t realise, but you pick them up while playing these sports. But I do believe that it helps me when I’m on the pitch. Your reaction, understanding, movement, are things you understand, and I do give importance to the various sports that I played while growing up.’