“It’s hard to beat someone who never gives up” – goes a famous saying.
Hailing from the city of Bhopal that proudly boasts its share of hockey besides its lakes, Affan Yousuf has lived true to that word after having gone through some turbulent times early in his career. From scoring in Egmore to scoring in Victoria – Affan Yousuf’s career has taken a fast forward stride off late.
Sportwalk recently caught up with him who is in Mumbai ahead of the upcoming season of the Hockey India League.
In conversation with Affan Yousuf
Your family has a long-held legacy of producing hockey players and there shouldn’t have been a shortage of inspiration. At what point of time, did you start considering hockey as a career?
When I was a kid, I was taken to the ground by my father regularly. Seeing my uncle play for the country in the 2000 Sydney Olympics served as a spark as well. It was back then that I decided that I will dedicate myself and work hard to become an international hockey player and win some medals for the country.
Your uncle Sameer was once quoted as saying in an interview that the he felt the pressure on him multiplied when India’s matches were televised because everyone in the family would watch, and point out the smallest of mistakes rather than praise him. Have you ever felt the weight of expectations to carry the family legacy forward?
Of course, yes. Because I hail from a hockey family, people expect me to perform with perfection while in reality, perfect hockey doesn’t exist. It is normal that even the world’s best players make small mistakes. In my case, I always get to know them from my father, uncle or brother when I come home after the tour or when I am speaking with them over a phone call.
Back in 2013, your mother was hospitalized because of stomach cancer. In fact, you applied for central railways and requested for a posting in Nagpur as that was the closest you could be to your mother — a six-hour journey to Bhopal. How hard was it for you to focus on the game back then?
I was in the camp when she was diagnosed with cancer. However, I was not told about it by my family as they did not want me to get distracted from the game. When I got back from the tour, she had already got operated for cancer. It was hard for me especially considering I was the most pampered kid of the lot in my home.
And what kept you pushing in those times?
I do not know how I could ever thank my mother. In those times, she never behaved like she was affected by cancer. Whenever she saw me, she made sure she wore a smile hiding her pain for me. It is the support of the family that kept me pushing.
How much did the stint with Indian Hockey Team last November help to enhance yourself?
I had a good domestic season in 2016 and followed it up with a decent outing in the Asian Champions Trophy and the tour of Australia. It helped me a lot. I gained a lot more confidence and I certainly feel better about my game than before.
How did you feel after scoring the goal against Pakistan in the Asian Champions Trophy final?
That was the best I’ve ever felt in my life.
We were asked to approach it as another game on the field to not let the pressure affect us. Scoring a goal always feels great. And scoring against Pakistan especially in the quest for a gold medal felt great.
Jay Stacy (coach of Dabang Mumbai) is very optimistic about you and stated that you have improved a lot from last year and are looking more lively. Your thoughts on what the team needs to do this year in the Hockey India League?
I will work hard. And as a team, if each one of us performs our allocated role properly, then we can obviously win.
Speed is your forte. What aspect of your game are you currently working on?
I am working on the aspects of my game that my coaches want me to enhance during the training sessions and after the matches. I am also focusing on my receiving, positioning skills.
What do you do in the off-season?
I play a lot of football on and off the field. By off the field, I mean FIFA, he adds on with a boyish excitement.
What do you cherish the most in your life?
Memories and friendship from my school days.
Your favourite athlete, actors and food?
Gurbaj Singh, Salman Khan and it probably is Biryani.
How much do you like the ‘Be Like Bro’ posts? (One can notice the posts from the page often being shared by him on his Facebook feed)
He laughs. The admin, he is a genius, I always get to see genuine and funny things there which makes one laugh and feel better.
At this rate, you can be the admin, I add on. And he laughs again before we sign off.