আমাদের রক্তে খেলা,
খেলার ছলে বিপ্লবী বেশ ।
আমরাই কখনো মুখ,
কখনো দল, কখনো দেশ ।
Pritam Kotal, the captain and defender of ATK Mohun Bagan sang this verse with his chest wideout and with immense pride on their way back to the hotel after defeating derby rival SC East Bengal. The Indian football fans proudly sing “Hala Madrid” or “You Will Never Walk Alone” when their favorite club wins. My heart filled with immense pleasure and pride when I saw Pritam singing that verse for his team. It gave me a sense of belongingness and something for our own football culture.
The small towns of India are these crazy factories of talent. From the roughest corners of India, there emerges some eagles that fly so high and also makes us believe the good old thoughts like – dreams do come true.
Pritam Kotal was no child prodigy but he was passionate from his early years. His passion and determination for football were visible from the age of 4. His uncle saw the natural flair in him in the small gullies of Uttarpara, a small town of West Bengal where he was born. Like every other kid in West Bengal, he inherited a rich history of love for the game of football. As a kid, his father Shiburam Kotal used to take him to the Salt Lake Stadium to watch the classic Kolkata Derby between Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.
After grinding through the ranks of club football in West Bengal, Pritam was spotted by major clubs. He played for Pallian Arrows and Mohun Bagan for his early part of the career. He impressed everyone with his performance.
During his youth playing career, Kotal played as a defensive midfielder. Once he joined the Pailan Arrows he started to play all three positions in defense more, especially right and left-back. Kotal is a tall strong physicality. He is never shy from a tackle but also immensely disciplined.
He helped ATK win two seasons of Indian Super League (2016-17 and 2019-20). Before that Pritam Kotal took to the field on 10 occasions for FC Pune City in Hero ISL 2014. In 2016, he played 12 matches for ATK FC in their title-winning campaign. He moved to Delhi Dynamos FC for the 2017-18 season and was impressive for the Lions, scoring one goal and providing two assists. In the 2018-19 season he signed for ATK FC in the January transfer window. He was pivotal in their title-winning campaign for the 2019-20 season. Kotal was the main person in ATK FC’s strong defensive setup in 2019-20. The 27 years old Defender played for Mohun Bagan for five seasons but never became a captain. But he finally captained the newly added ATK Mohun Bagan in Indian Super League 2020-21. Pritam Kotal engraved his name in one of the oldest and most prestigious clubs in Indian Football.
Before making his international debut in the senior team, Kotal promoted through the ranks of U22 and U23 Indian teams. He finally made his international debut for India on 12th March 2015 in their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying match against Nepal. The match was of great significance. It was also Stephen Constantine's first match as head coach for India. He gave Pritam the first break in the senior team. Since then Pritam is an indispensable player for Team India. In his debut match, he played the full match but earned a sixth-minute yellow card as India won 2–0. 3 January 2016, Kotal helped India re-take the SAFF Championship when they defeated the reigning champions Afghanistan 2–1 in extra-time. He has so far represented India in 36 International matches and 10 age-group Internationals.
The most important trait of Pritam is not his defensive performance but his quality ball distribution and press resistance. He was not strong physically in the early days of his career. But he built himself and remodeled his style of play.
"Honestly, I was not a naturally talented player and I'm not ashamed of admitting this. I knew I had to overcome my shortcomings through hardcore training and sheer practice regimes,"- Kotal said in an interview with AIFF.
He is a very disciplined and determined person. It was from his U-19 days at the AIFF Centre in Goa that Kotal developed the habit of scribbling down every practice session in his personal diary. He believes this practice gave him an intricate understanding of weaknesses. He kept on working on his technique and he is still improving to be the best.
"I started it as I wanted to minimize my mistakes – not just the practice sessions, but also the matches I played,"- Kotal emphasized.
When asked about his habit of writing down the training session review, he said, “I still have the habit of jotting it down. And why not?"
The defender also works on his mental stamina. He resorted to meditation for dealing with the pressure at the highest level. He earned him the nickname of 'Meditation Kotal' in the national team.
India lost to Bahrain in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019. It was a heartbreaking moment for Team India. But he also labeled it as a "new beginning." He was very vocal and showed tremendous support for his teammates.
"We have grown stronger since that day.”
The Heroics of Kotal
Pritam is the hero we don’t deserve. When he reached the top of his career, he was nothing but grateful for the life he was living. He believes he owes his success to the streets. The streets made him the toughest kid among the bundle. He wanted to do something for the street. Kotal has launched an academy in collaboration with a few other current players to help the needy realize their dreams of playing for the blue jersey. He believes malnutrition may affect aspiring footballers with poor financial background. He wants to help them.
"I have seen boys not getting proper food pre and post-training. Even after training, they take mere rations which are not enough for a budding footballer. It is going to be our loss, Indian football's loss," -Kotal told the All Indian Football Federation in an interview.
Kotal, the Blue Samaritan who proudly wears the Tricolour on his heart wants to build a future. We hope we could see more of him in the coming future. He is young and has a long career ahead of him. It would be a joy to watch him leading India to the ultimate dream – FIFA World Cup.