New Delhi: Raju Vasudev Haldankar, a Goan footballer, who had never taken flown in an airplane in his life, will now have a chance to take a dream flight to the United States. It could be a life-changing shift from conventional football to the National Football League, an American rage where stardom and big money rules. The 22-year-old, who came to Sesa Football Academy and played for Salgaocar, now turns out for a club in Calangute, where football is a way of life. He emerged as the big winner in the National Finals of the “Million Dollar Kick” Season 1, and will now proceed to the US for training and hopefully a career in NFL as a kicker.
The Grand Finals of the “Million Dollar Kick India - Season 1” was the culmination of City Try Outs in Delhi, Goa, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Shillong, Dehradun and Lucknow. Apart from a trip to US for training and a chance to make the big league, Haldankar also received a prize of US $ 5,000 (equivalent of just over Rs. 3.3 lakhs) besides gifts from Oakley eyewear and Jio phones.
Haldankar won the National Finals at the Siri Fort Sports Complex, where it all began a month ago, with a neat 55-yard kick. The first and second runner-up were Dylan D’Costa, who was earlier a wildcard from South Goa Try Out, and Gnanendrasinh Jhala, winner of the Ahmedabad Try Out. Representing a diverse background, Haldankar is a regular footballer with a local club; Gnanendrasinh Jhala, 30, works at the AG Office in Rajkot and Dylan D’Costa is a 17-year-old student in Goa and keen football player.
Apart from the three winners, the organisers of the “MDK – Season 1” in India, also picked three other ‘potential stars’. They are another Goan, Elton Godinho, also a ‘wildcard’ in Goa Try Outs, Gorakhpur’s Mukesh Singh, winner of Lucknow Try Out, and the phenomenally talented Arshad Khan, a Lucknow goalkeeper, who won the first Try Out in Delhi. So, the selected six include three from Goa and one each from Gorakhpur, Ahmedabad and Lucknow.
Interestingly, Haldankar, who came for the Goa Try Outs for MDK at the advice of football star, Climax Lawrence, was one of the two ‘wildcards’ whom the organisers saw as a big potential and talent. “The response we received for the inaugural season of the MDK India was phenomenal. In each of the City Try Outs, the enthusiasm for this new sport was amazing and after a long journey through various cities of India, we have six kickers, all of whom are winners in a way. Not just that, even the talent we got to see was awesome. It re-affirms our belief that this sport does have a great future in India, where football is already a big passion,” said Neeraj Sareen, Managing Director of Sportsmantra, the owners and founders of the series.
“I am delighted with this "Million Dollar Kick“ event and quite clearly ‘The Million Dollar Arm’ which put two Indians in limelight was something we had in mind. These ‘kickers’ could now discover a new sporting life for themselves as the NFL dream could become a reality.”
The arrival of American football into places like Dehradun, Shillong, Goa, Guwahati and Lucknow apart from bigger cities shows how bright the future is for the future series and the game, added Sareen, whose vision it was to bring “Million Dollar Kick” to India.
Haldankar said, "It's a great feeling when you win something big, I am very happy to have won the Million Dollar Kick. It gives me a chance to represent my nation at the biggest stage in the world. Even though I won, I have massive respect for my fellow participants as they are among India's best kickers." The winners also received Oakley eyewear and Reliance Jio phones were given out to the Top 10.