“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
The concluding lines from Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ talks about the importance of choices in our lives. The choices we make shape our future.
A young footballer in his prime, after fighting a number of off-field struggles, was overjoyed about making his debut for the senior team of Mumbai FC against Dempo. Seemingly the next moment, however, a minor injury would keep him away from the sport he loved, for fourteen months. He refused to quit though, and traveled to Spain to pursue his passion. Playing for Deportivo, a second division club, he was unable to sign a contract. A trip back home earning him nothing but further reflection on his struggles. He had to choose between madly following his passion or being practical about the situation.
In 2016, Manuel D’Souza decided to become a sports conditioning trainer. “I am a performance-enhancing coach. I help people increase their speed or improve their agility. I have worked with a couple of ISL athletes, including Jayesh Rane, Ashutosh Mehta and even Karan Amin.”
The 28-year-old has his own fitness firm, Train With Manuel, where he assists people with functional training, weight loss programmes, agility workouts, power training along with injury prevention sessions. Manuel strongly believes, “In three years’ time, it will be the biggest thing for athletes in India. It is the biggest thing in the US, Europe, Australia and that’s the reason why they are so much ahead. This is what is lacking in India.”
Football came naturally to Manuel. He fell for the game early in his childhood. “There were no great facilities for us but it’s gotten much better now. I was first spotted at a local club and got selected for the Maharashtra U17 team.” In 2008, as a sixteen-year-old, he was picked to play for Mahindra, which paved his way to the Mumbai junior team. Manuel’s exceptional work ethics ensured that he got promoted to the senior side as well.
“The agents have overtaken the game more than the players.; it’s at all levels”, he says with a sense of emptiness. Following a series of unwanted scenarios off the field, Manuel was forced to discontinue his professional football career. He made a career choice that took him to New York. A certification in Personal Training from the American Council on Exercise (ACE) helped him to understand how desperately India needs to catch up. “I think we are at least three to four years behind the USA in terms of normal training. I’m hoping that if I can bring what I learnt to India.”
Manuel lost his father five years ago. He carried the loss and continued to do what he was supposed to. “My mom has always been supportive. She’s told me to do whatever it is that makes you happy.” His journey has been about hard work and self-belief. However, Manuel strongly believes making sacrifices is a must. “For football or any sport, you have to sacrifice in order to get somewhere. If you sacrifice for the first three to four years, you will get everything you want in abundance for the next four to five years. That is for sure.”