In 1981, Invalappil Mani Vijayan was 12 years old. He sold cold drinks at a football stadium near his home in Thrissur, Kerala, to earn some money for his family. Today he is not only the captain of the Indian football team, he has started a coaching centre at the same football stadium. He wants to help youngsters like him who have dreams but very few ways of making them come true.
The five feet ten inches tall Vijayan is one of the best goal scorers in Indian football today. He holds the record for the fastest goal in the world. He is the sole Indian player to have scored two international hat-tricks for India. The football player has been selected as India’s best player of the year three times.
The good-natured Vijayan also has had a film made on him. No wonder he has become a larger than life hero in his home state of Kerala.
Vijayan dreamt his first dreams in a thatched hut. Born on April 25, 1969, he comes from a very poor family in Thrissur. His father was a farm labourer who survived on daily wages. Vijayan did not wear shoes till the age of 12.
As fate would have it, he lived very near the football stadium. On match days, he would sell cold drinks and earn some money for the family. But, in his spare time, the 12-year-old would play with an old ball in the company of the other boys who worked with him.
Luckily for Vijayan, Kerala had a football scheme and he was enrolled in a three-year camp. It was at the camp that his talent developed.
He was at the right time at the right place. Coaches of football teams trying to spot talented youngsters often came to the camp. In 1986-87, when the Kerala Police coaches came, they were impressed with Vijayan. They took him on. And now he had a regular income to take home.
Vijayan played for the Kerala Police for four years. In 1991, the rich Calcutta football club, Mohun Bagan, picked him up. They paid him hundreds of thousands of rupees each year. Vijayan had become one of India’s top players. In the same year, Vijayan also played for India for the first time. He showed many skills: he could dribble and pass the ball at the right time. He could also pick up passes accurately. That is why he is seen as one of India’s all-time bests.
From 1991 till 1998, Vijayan was taken on by one prestigious club after another. JCT Mills, Phagwara (Punjab), FC Kochin club (Kerala) and Mohun Bagan were some of them. At one stage, he was earning almost Rs. 4 million ($93,023) per year. He returned to his home state Kerala last year.
Vijayan, who is planning to retire soon, has started a football academy in the city of Thrissur, where he was born. He has another dream now: to give back something to the game that has brought him success and happiness. He plans to coach youngsters. Who knows, he may just succeed in making the dreams of some boy come true. As his dream came true for him.