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Dhruvmil Pandya: Living the footballer dream at Crystal Palace
Adwait A. Patil  27th Jun 2015

London football clubs are huge. Home fans and television audiences applaud the likes of Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal when they see superstar footballers don their club colours. Even though these clubs have never been considered favourites at a European level, their audience across continents increases with every game, adding new devotees each season.

However, London does have a poorer and much less glossier football underside. Fulham, the oldest club from the capital city in the Football League, finished 17th in the Championship this season and 19th in the Premier League a year prior, getting relegated. While their cross-town rivals Chelsea won the Premier League this year, Fulham have been busy hiring their third manager in as many years. Fulham Football Club's fall from the top tier of British football is just a recent example of a club reaching the lower end of London's football spectrum.

Caught in between the city's high spending successful clubs and the much smaller, less flashier options exists a group of clubs consisting of perennial underachievers, some dropping in and out of top division football with each passing season, others a regular midtable fixture. Among this group exists Crystal Palace. The south east London club has successfully completed two seasons in the English top flight after spending seven seasons outside it. As the Eagles prepare for their third consecutive season in the Premier League, they will also be young Mumbai footballer Dhruvmil Pandya's new home.

With the intention of fostering a stronger football culture in India, the Premier League and Indian Super League clubs sought out young, talented individuals who would be then given the opportunity to study and play football in an academy in England. During one such talent search held between ISL club Mumbai City FC and Crystal Palace, Pandya was selected out of the 100 prospective candidates who turned up at Cooperage, the football stadium that serves as home to Mumbai City FC, to impress Palace and Mumbai City coaches.

“I am the kind of player who likes to pass the ball around and take a chance at goal whenever it’s possible. I play as a centre midfielder. I look up to playing like Lampard and [Marco] Reus. I prefer the right pass at the right time, rather than holding the ball for longer periods. I think the job of a centre midfielder is providing rather than scoring.”

Guardian20 spoke to the 15-year-old, who has just completed the 10th grade, about the time he spent at the Crystal Palace Academy and the journey that took him there.

Q. Can you tell us how the selection process went?

A. The first round had the coaches scout all the players. The top 100 were called to Cooperage. Coaches from Palace were present here. The 100 players were tested in small sided games and the coaches made a final list of 22 players. We played a full pitch game, and, after 30 minutes, the coaches scouted eight players from the 22 for the final round.

Q. What happened in the final round, what were the coaches looking at when selecting the right player?

A. On the final day of trials, the scouts who turned up were Abhishek Yadav, Indraneel Das Blah (Mumbai City FC), Mark Bright (Crystal Palace FC) and Robbie Fowler (ex-Liverpool FC). They were looking for a player who had a simple way of playing. A simple passing game, something like a [Steven] Gerrard or a [Frank] Lampard. After the final round, I was selected from the top eight.

Q. Can you explain what the regular day at the Crystal Palace academy is like?

A. The day would start with a 9 a.m. practice session. After that, we'd shower and then a mini bus would drive us to school. We had regular classes in school till 3 p.m., have some snacks, and the mini bus would take us back to the practice ground for our second session. Our day would end at 7.30 p.m.

Q. Crystal Palace have had a turnaround season; are there any players at the club you've watched closely this season and admired?

A. Yeah, Palace were out of form at the start, but after the arrival of [Alan] Pardew, we've all seen how they played better. They defeated Manchester City! I admired every player at Palace, especially Jason Puncheon. He often plays in my position and is great at it.

Q. Can you describe your playing style? What position do you tend to play; how do like to move the ball around on the pitch?

A. I am one of those players who likes to pass the ball around and take a chance at goal whenever it's possible. I play as a centre midfielder. I look up to playing like Lampard and [Marco] Reus. I prefer the right pass at the right time, rather than holding the ball for longer periods. I think the job of a centre midfielder is providing rather than scoring.

 
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