23-year-old Danish Bhat is a fan-favourite at I-League club Real Kashmir. He is one of only two Kashmir-born players in the first-team squad who have played regularly this season and is relishing a career that poses different challenges.
Little did he know about the different turns his life was going to take when he joined the Snow Leopards, who became the first club from Kashmir to play in I-League two years ago. The club assembled a strong team for the then top division and Bhat has been a vital cog in David Robertson's squad for two seasons in a row.
"My life has changed after joining Real Kashmir. Earlier, very few people knew about me but after joining Real Kashmir, now people know who I am not only in Jammu and Kashmir but all over India and it feels great when you receive messages of appreciation and love from the people," Bhat told Goal .
The struggle for a young footballer in India is big. When he/she is from a region like Kashmir which has been newsworthy for one reason or another for several years, a career in football becomes all the more difficult. Bhat has also had issues to deal with - the scrapping of Article 370 and the lockdown that followed affected him and his family, who he cites as his biggest support pillar.
"Obviously when you play for Real Kashmir, you have to face many challenges. In the last two years, we have faced each and every challenge together and that's what makes us tough and different from other teams. For me personally, the situation during the lockdown was very difficult. I was not able to talk with my family for one month that was a very hard time for me. I will never forget that time in my life," he said.
He continued, "The biggest inspiration in life is my family. They have always supported me from the beginning, they have done every possible thing to help me do well. I am very blessed and thankful to have them in my life."
With four goals from 24 starts in two seasons under head coach David Robertson, Bhat has quickly climbed the football ladder. He's not a talented kid anymore as he hopes to don the Indian national team jersey. He hopes to represent his country at the international level and that feat, which would be special considering he's from Kashmir, is now achievable in his mind, due to the lessons he has learned from Robertson.
"I have learnt a lot of things under his (Robertson) guidance in these years. He wants his players to fight like warriors whenever they take the field and I think he has done a tremendous job here. I have always tried to keep things simple, work hard and follow his instructions on the field.
"My biggest dream and career goal is to play for the national team one day, I am working hard and I hope I will get the opportunity to play for the national team," said Bhat, who will be the second player from Kashmir after Mehrajuddin Wadoo to play for India's senior team if he realizes his dream.