What an encouraging piece of news for our neighbour's football! It is not often a player from South Asia gets an opportunity from a huge European football club let alone a one-year deal. A predominantly cricket nation has to thank for their determined football team captain Sunil Chhetri for his relentless effort to further his career in the mecca of world football. He might have had his fair share of opportunities in Britain for the likes of Coventry and QPR and a notable stint in Kansas City, USA, though none of it promises as much as it does here for his ambitious football career. He may be 27 but his enthusiasm to make it big in the international arena speaks for itself.
Contrast that with a fellow player we know, a prodigy from tiny, tiny Maldives. He, at the tender age of 18 had an opportunity if not similar, a better one at that, in 2003 in the same European nation to have a go at. He had just smashed few records on his way to net a magnificent 35 goals in his first full season for Club Valencia, what more he was Maldives footballer of the year awarded by daily newspaper Haveeru. A boy at such age, while displaying a dazzling array of skills, far removed from his peers, we are talking about a special talent, a star threatening to explode on the biggest of stages.
It was a mouthwatering prospect, because you are getting a chance to train with Benfica FC, one of the biggest clubs of European football. If good enough then play at the highest level, brush shoulders with big names of world football. A golden opportunity for anybody worth his salt, an offer you would grab by the scruff of neck. A glorious platform to exhibit your prodigious talent in the highest echelon of world football. Yet to our horror, at the last moment, Ali Ashfaq opted to forgo the opportunity for reasons which to this day had remained a mystery. A proud moment for Maldives football was shattered while many of football-lovers were yet to come to terms with the fantasy move.
If only he had made the right decision for the future of his football career. If only somebody had drilled into him some sense that nothing comes gift-wrapped and that it is your toils and hard work, the sacrifices at the altar of beckoning dreams that brings the deserved platitudes. The point is no award in the local football would match up in scale and grandeur the occasion that he, willingly or otherwise, let slip by on that day in 2003. Not even the opportunity he gave a miss to clubs from Singapore, Malaysia, India or Slovakia.
You can only wonder at what might have been. What if... what if he did make use of the opportunity...you can only wallow in disbelief at the wasted chance! For whatever reason(s) or whoever has influenced him to stick with the decision that he subsequently clung on to, it was an opportunity that he would now look back with regret. These are the kind of decisions that differentiate nobody from somebody, ordinary player from extraordinary player, an Ashfaq from a Chhetri.