From stomping on the grounds of St. Patrick’s School in Asansol to playing on the snow-clad TRC Turf Ground in Srinagar for a professional side in Real Kashmir, Ritwik Das has come a long way.
Right from his childhood, he had an affinity towards sports and academics would often take a backseat. With a football at his feet, he would spend hours often drawing the ire of his mother, Mita Das. But soon she realized the potential in her son and then backed him to the hilt, a rare sight in Bengal where academics is placed on the higher pedestal.
“She has worked tirelessly and I owe everything to her. I was playing in the U13 team of my school but she understood that it was necessary to get out of Burnpur to get better training. So, when I was in class eight, my mother took me to Kolkata. I enrolled myself in Mohun Bagan‘s training school and under the tutelage of Sankar Lal Chakraborty, I started training,” reminisced Das to Goal.
He spent almost two years training at Mohun Bagan. It was a tough job for a child to travel almost 500 km to and fro every weekend, but his persistence saw him through.
“Every weekend I used to go there and come back to attend school on Monday. It was a good learning curve. But I did not get any competitive matches there.”
It was during his stint in Mohun Bagan he closely witnessed how a professional football team works and what it takes to play for a club of the stature of the Mariners. But the lack of matches was a niggling concern for the budding footballer. At that juncture, he came across Chinmoy Sarkar, who would play a pivotal role in shaping his career.
“I used to stay near Jadavpur and while returning from Mohun Bagan practice, I came across a trial for a coaching camp. That was the turning point. Chotka da (Chinmoy Sarkar) saw potential in me while I was training in his academy. Whatever I am today, that is because of him.
“I started participating in junior tournaments which gave me vital exposure to competitive football. He used to train me in various positions in the attacking third and midfield and insisted on the necessity to become a versatile player who could play in several positions,” stated Das.
He got selected by Calcutta Customs for the Calcutta Football League (CFL) but he did not get many minutes during that campaign. However, as Das was raring to get on the pitch, he took a step back and joined Kalighat MS, a second-division CFL side, to get more playing time.
Under veteran coach Arun Ghosh, he further honed his skills and prepared himself for the next big step.
“Real Kashmir held trials for second division I-League at the SAI (Sports Authority of India) complex in Salt Lake. I felt I was ready for national-level competition and fortunately I got selected as well. It was a wonderful campaign. I was the joint top-scorer (four goals) of my team and more importantly, we beat Hindustan FC in the final 3-2 to qualify for I-League.”
The 23-year-old was a regular under David Robertson and after proving his mettle for two seasons in the I-League, he is all set to join Kerala Blasters. The Kochi-based outfit has roped in Kibu Vicuna as the head coach for the next season and Das seemed enamoured by the Spaniard’s style of football that he implemented in Mohun Bagan.
“Vicuna’s Mohun Bagan was a delight to watch. They were the best team in the league and were deserving champions. Their possessional style of football was very difficult to play against. I think a player can improve enormously under Vicuna. He likes to play with the ball and a player who is comfortable with the ball can learn a lot from him.”
Das has been careful with his career progression. From plying his trade in the CFL second division to joining an ISL side, he has not missed a step in between. His ultimate dream is to go on to represent the country. With patience and perseverance being his forte, no distance should be too long for the demure winger.