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Kenkre coach Akhil Kothari: A surreal montage of broken dreams and indomitable passion to succeed

10:32 PM EST 12/27/21
Akhil Kothari
Kothari has nothing to lose, but a league championship to win...

Akhil Kothari was spotted by Adib Kenkre, the founder of Kenkre FC, during an inter-school match between St. Mary's and Bombay Scottish, Mahim in 2010. The veteran coach offered him an opportunity to train with the U-16 team of Kenkre and the budding footballer was quick to accept. Within a couple of years, he was promoted to the U-19 side and subsequently to the senior team.

But just when his career was about to accelerate on the highway of success, he suffered a crunching tackle on his knee during an MDFA elite division match which forced him to prematurely end his playing career. Life took an unexpected turn and he found himself limping on the boulevard of broken dreams.

He started rehab to make a comeback using Kenkre FC's facilities at Don Bosco Matunga, but it was evident that his playing days were over. However, he picked up the broken pieces and started searching for ways and means to continue his association with football.

"No doubt it was a difficult period. During my rehab, I would spend time with the kids that would come to train as I never wanted to end my association with football. Kenkre Sir and Joshua (Lewis, CEO of Kenkre) supported me a lot and one evening, they came up to me and offered me an opportunity to train the U4s and U6 kids," he stated during a conversation with Goal.

So, just at the tender age of 18, he started his tryst with coaching. Soon he enrolled himself in the licensing courses and at 23, he obtained his AFC A-License.

"I have trained every age group in Kenkre. Right from the U4s to the U19s, I have rubbed shoulders with every one of them. And I tell you that there's not much difference in the approach. For every age, you need to plan. You have to prepare yourself. Otherwise, you will not progress and the players will not benefit as well," Kothari explained.

However, in this Covid-induced season, he has hardly had a window to prepare his troops, given the restrictions in Mumbai due to Covid. They practiced for just two weeks before participating in the I-League qualifiers in Bengaluru, and now he has had less than a month to train before making their debut in I-League. Nonetheless, there's one saving grace that most of his players have been retained and they are accustomed to his style and philosophy.

"We have 16 players from Maharashtra and 10 of them are Kenkre graduates. So that's a plus point. We have also retained one foreigner in Zacharie Mbenda, and hope to add a couple more during the course of the season," he informed.

But Kothari knows that there's a mountain to climb for him in I-League. In their very first match, they will play against Real Kashmir FC on December 31. Yet Kothari and his men are not intimidated and want to take the game to the Snow Leopards to get the maximum points out of that fixture.

"The opportunity to compete and the belief to do well in I-League is a major motivation. The challenge is huge but we have the hunger to prove ourselves," Kothari stated with a steely determination.

It was the same hunger that pulled him out of his darkest days in life. And it is this hunger that will fuel him once again on Friday in what is set to be perhaps the biggest day in his life. The odds are definitely stacked against him, but we have seen that fairy tales do happen in football. He has nothing to lose but everything to gain.