“Different roads sometimes lead to the same castle.” At times we might take the road less taken, the one that differs from the norm, where it feels like you’re starting from scratch, where there are different obstacles than the ones that people told you you’d face when you grow up. But if you know where you’re going, you just have to keep swimming. One such voyager is Brishti Bagchi, making history for the tricolor of India, as she becomes the first Indian to sign a professional contract in Spain. Following the footsteps of Bala Devi who signed with Rangers earlier this year, she is the second Indian woman to ever sign a pro contract anywhere in the world.
She signs for CDC Moscardó and will be seen donning the red and white number five shirt in midfield for the club. After a student athlete life in Oklahoma, she came to Spain two years ago and has trained with many clubs since. She learnt how to balance her studies along with football from a young age and has a degree in kinesiology (mechanics of body movement).The Bangalore born midfielder left for has represented the Sports Authority of India (SAI) girls’ team, Karnataka state junior and senior team, Oklahoma City University varsity soccer team, Bengaluru United F.C in the Indian Women's League and has undergone trials with numerous clubs
She defied all odds, broke all barriers and thinks gender discrimination was the smallest of hurdles she jumped over. She shows the young women of our country to question everything and press and win back the ball if you lose possession in life. Today, she tells the little girl who went shoulder to shoulder with older boys that she was right to dream, right to gain experience from three countries and right to study her body. In her words, “The path to our destination is not always a straight one. We go down the wrong road, we get lost, we turn back. Maybe it doesn’t matter which road we embark on. Maybe what matters is that we embark.”
I was honoured to sit down and chat with her last month, about her ambitions, decisions and challenges she faced.
The Interviewer (T.I): Congratulations! You’re about to join a group of elites who’ve played in Europe! How does it feel?
Brishti Bagchi: Kind of feels a bit long overdue because I spent a year and a half on paperwork and I’ve been training with a lot of teams. However, It’s one of the most humbling experiences ever. Training with amazing coaches here, signing and being part of the league, it’s actually very overwhelming. I’ve been working on it for a long time so it feels about time. I’m ready for it and I know what I have to do.
T.I: How difficult has it been to bag a contract amidst a pandemic?
B.B: Actually, I was supposed to be signing earlier this year but the Coronavirus happened. They scrapped the league, and everything got postponed. I’ve been constantly switching teams. It’s been quite a challenge, so much that even right now if the second wave hits hard, they might postpone our mid-November restart.
T.I: What can you tell us about your new club?
B.B: It feels really nice to have finally got this contract. I've been working on funds and paperwork for almost 2 years now, and to finally see this day is just proof that if you put your mind to something and you organize a plan, anything can be possible. There are still however a lot of uncertainties due to Covid, and we take cautious steps every week. I am going to continue to work hard and hope our season goes well. We have several big teams to play against, and I'm hoping for a safe and successful season
Brishti in her new team Moscardo's colours.
T.I: You’ve trained in three countries. India, US and Spain? How similar and different have these experiences been for you?
B.B: Similar, obviously because of the passion for the game but once you’re on the field it’s a different experience. All of us have this crazy drive to be here and do this and be on the team. In the US it was very aggressive, very powerful. A lot more lifting, and injuries that came with it. In Spain you don’t see a lot of physicality, but their touches are insane. It’s like they were born with the ball at their feet. There are skills that I’d do once in a while but ever since I’ve come here I do them all the time because of how the game is around me. You constantly have to go back to the basics, [think of] whatever you learnt growing up, fixing those gaps and trying to replicate their game. It’s funny because in India we play a lot more long balls and because I know how to time these passes, if there’s an opportunity I take it more often. I take the good stuff that I’ve learnt in each country and use it.
T.I: Choosing not to take the traditional path to football and leave the country at such a young age must be a tough decision. Why did you take it, and do you feel playing in a country that has won multiple world cups has benefitted your career in any way?
B.B: I left India because I wanted to pursue my education as well. I had my A levels [pre-university exams based on the UK education system] at the time of my India camp and that’s when I really thought about what I wanted to do about football. Growing up I had a lot of coaches from abroad and they kind of planted that seed into my head [of continuing with my studies as I pursue football] so that’s probably the main reason for opting for this decision. Playing in the US has benefited hugely because if I went from India to Spain it would not have been the same experience. When I was playing at Uni, I was playing at a high level already while tackling my studies on the side and that built me up for the experience I have right now. It is easier for me now because I went through those 5-6 years which has really equipped me for this experience. I build up a lot of resistance in strength and power and that’s helped me here.
T.I: You have a degree in kinesiology, has that helped you understand your body better and improved your game?
B.B: Yeah I keep telling a lot of my friends and people that sport specific training has given me the edge to play at a professional level. Just going to the gym and lifting doesn’t get you anywhere, you’ll get injured. Say you want to turn, you assume you just use your ankle or knee to turn but it’s actually the entire chain of muscles from your shoulder to the opposite ankle, involving your core. And when you learn these things and apply them to training you become very specific with the things. You wanna work on and improve on your weaknesses. When I apply the bio-mechanics of kinesiology that I studied, I get a huge advantage in terms of my biochemistry. It really gives me an edge to go to that pro level. Its quality over quantity. My running technique was a shitshow before I started this degree. You’re not just making everything better but you’re using less energy and becoming a more efficient athlete. These small things help a lot in key high pressure moments.
T.I: Taking up sports as a profession, you’ve broken all societal barriers and are an inspiration to the country, did you face any challenges during this process?
B.B: Faced almost every challenge you can think of when you think of this career. Gender discrimination in the beginning, but now that I think of it, it was one of the smallest challenges. The bigger ones have been the bureaucratic system, the funding, the pay gap and disparity in women's sports. As much as I love studying and want to continue my research in the future, it was important to do it because what if I get injured? There’s no money in my career so you always need a backup. There were many times I thought about leaving football, but I can never do it. I know I can’t. I didn’t even think about it seriously, it just doesn’t happen. I keep going back to the field I know I can’t live without playing.
T.I: Growing up who has been your idol in the world of football and outside of it?
B.B: On the pitch, super cliche but Ronaldinho. I just love him to death. I had his posters all over my room. He’s always happy and that’s how I feel when playing. I’m competitive but I have to enjoy the game. If it’s starting to get ugly I feel there’s something wrong. For him it’s all about expressing yourself and having fun with the ball.
Off the pitch, my parents. They’re also the same, my dad’s a mathematician and mom’s a statistician. No experience in sports but they supported me because their life has been loving what you do and trying to make a career in something you like to do. I can see how much they love their work, so it was easy for me in that sense and [growing up] I thought I want to be like them.
T.I: Do you think Indian football is headed in the right direction?
B.B: Definitely. Ever since I left in 2012, so many more players are playing. Leagues have money and people have careers in football. There has been a huge development. Definitely [in the right direction] but I still feel it needs more hype. I’m excited to see what happens in the next 5-10 years and we’re going to be on the world map.
T.I: Your secret for success that you’d share with the young women in our country?
B.B: Just question everything. Let people say what they’re saying but make sure you think about it critically. If something’s not right in the system, think about how to change it. Instead of the symptom, look at the problem and work with that. I had issues with society and had to explain a lot of things. ‘You’re getting all tanned and skinny and scars and pimples and guys saying you can’t play with us.” Ask why so many times that they are forced to give in. It doesn’t always have to be either football or studies. Both can happen at the same time. I was passionate enough to find a way and that’s what took me to the US. You can have the best of both worlds if you’re really serious about it. It’s not about finding shortcuts but fighting the hard way out.
The process of figuring it out yourself will give you greater rewards. 80% of the things I’ve tried I’ve failed. 10-15% of what I tried got me here. Fail thousands of times till it works out. That’s what a lot of people don’t see. The one and a half years of paperwork was thousands of failures. I was frozen in time, but I looked at it objectively and worked a way around it. Failure teaches you the real stuff. Success is the cherry on top. I just wanted to play and I’ve found a way to do things that I wanted to do. Lot of people give up as soon as they fail once or twice but getting out of your comfort zone is where you learn. Racism, sexism, lots of hurdles come but you’ve got to keep playing. If you lose possession what are you gonna do next? Not stand and look at the ball right? But press and get possession back. You’re gonna fall but if you wanna win you’ll have to go and get the ball back.