“I don’t think there is any extra pressure. We are no longer a new team. Yes, there are expectations from us to do well,” mid-fielder Danish Farooq, who was instrumental in Real Kashmir’s IFA Shield victory, told TOI from Kolkata. “We have a great chance this year. We have put together an excellent squad and are looking for a much-improved team from last year,” he added.
Kashmiri footballers such as Ishfaq Ahmed, Mehrajuddin Wadoo, and Abdul Majid have played at the highest level but never received adulation like Danish. The 23-year-old is a star in Srinagar. Whenever Real Kashmir used to play at TRC Turf Ground in Srinagar, the home crowd chanted ‘Apna Danish’ to support their favourite footballer. He has also been given the moniker of ‘Kashmiri Ronaldo’ by his teammates because of his dribbling skills.
“It feels amazing that people know me and recognize me wherever I go. They ask me for photos and autographs and shower me with so much affection. This is something I am grateful for,” said Danish about his stardom in the valley.
Whenever Real Kashmir plays in Srinagar, around 5,000 supporters always turn up for the game, and Danish does feel the team will miss the home advantage.
“Yes, we will definitely miss our fans. We have enjoyed playing at our home ground due to the support we get and because of the cold weather. This time around, all the matches are in Kolkata, so it’s equal for everyone. In the regular season too, we used to travel a lot and had to acclimatise, and it never was easy,” he said.
Danish has played an important role in the qualification of Real Kashmir in the I-League top tier. He is a vital cog in the Real Kashmir’s wheel. Although his numbers don’t tell you the truth, Danish, a team man, has played as a centre-back, right back, in the midfield, as a striker, and sometimes even on the wings. He has been Roberson’s go-to man in his long balls and counter-attacking style of play.
Although Danish calls himself an attacking mid-fielder, he has no complaints about playing in multiple positions. He said: “It is our head coach who makes the strategy, and we play according to what he says. As players, we need to adjust and manage according to the team’s strategy.”
When asked what Real Kashmir brings to the table for youngsters in Jammu and Kashmir, he said, “The club has provided a platform to develop local talent, and more local players come through the club’s ranks. The club is working tirelessly to develop football in the region and deepen the bond between the club and its fans.”
Danish, who aspires to play for India, kept his cards close to his chest on plying his trade for other clubs.