The game of football has been a popular sport in India for quite some time now, but it is not often that one hears of players from small towns making it big on the global stage. In a country where cricket is the dominant sport, football has struggled to gain the attention it deserves. However, this has not stopped young talents from emerging and shining bright. One such talent is Soumya Guguloth, a young footballer from Telangana who has been making headlines for her recent signing with ŽNK Dinamo Zagreb in the Croatian Women’s League.
The Deccan plateau, known for producing some of India’s most talented footballers, has seen a decline in the representation of players in top-level competitions over the last four decades. The legendary Hyderabad City Police team had won as many as 9 Rovers Cups, 4 Durand Cups, and 2 IFA shield titles in the first 2 decades after the independence. Even after the glory of the police team faded, men from Andhra Pradesh continued to represent the Indian national team at top-level competitions. Mohammed Najib, Players like Mohammed Habib, Syed Nayeemuddin, Tulsidas Balaram, Peter Thangaraj, and Shabbir Ali won glory for their clubs and the Indian team in the 1960s and 1980s. However, the last 4 decades saw a decline in the representation of players from the Deccan region in the top level of the Indian football circuit. Despite this decline, Soumya has managed to break the barrier and put Nizamabad on the world map with her professional signing for Dinamo Zagreb. Her journey from a small town to a foreign league has been nothing short of extraordinary.
Soumya’s love for football started at an early age when she used to participate in athletics in school. It was then that she was spotted by coach Nagaraju, a physical education teacher who runs the “Care Football Academy”. He convinced Soumya’s parents and it was at his academy where Soumya received professional football training and was able to secure a spot in the Indian youth teams. Since then, she has represented India in the under-14, 16, and 19 AFC championships and the under-17 BRICS championship.
In 2017, at the young age of 16, Soumya became the first player from Telangana to participate in the Indian Women’s League when she signed for Indian Rush SC. Her impressive performances in the league caught the eye of many, and she was soon signed by Kenkre FC. It was while playing for Kenkre FC in the IWL that she scored against champions Gokulam Kerala FC, a performance that earned her a contract with the Malabarians.
Under the tutelage of coach Priya, Soumya won her first IWL title with Gokulam Kerala FC. She was also given the opportunity to play in the AFC Women’s Championship held in Jordan. Her performances in these competitions were impressive, and she then participated in the trials organized by “Women in Sports’ where she caught the attention of scouts from foreign leagues.
The Croatian Women’s League is known to be one of the best leagues in Europe, and the level of competition is much higher than in India. The football culture and training methods in Croatia are vastly different from those in India, and Soumya had to adjust to this change in environment.
“The football cultures of 2 countries are extremely different. Here, the players have better football intelligence as they start their training early. Consequently, their decision-making on the field is superior”, said Soumya.
In India, women’s football is still growing, and the professional league is relatively new. The Indian Women’s League (IWL), which began in 2016, is the premier women’s football league in the country. However, it lasts for only four months. In contrast, the Croatian Women’s League, where Soumya currently plays for ŽNK Dinamo Zagreb, has a longer season of eight months. On the positive side, the league committee of the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) has decided to increase the number of teams in the league and to give direct entry to the top 4 teams of the previous season to the final round of the competition.
The signing of Soumya Guguloth by ŽNK Dinamo Zagreb in the Croatian Women’s League was a historic moment not only for her but for Indian football as a whole. It was a moment of pride for Telangana, a region that has produced many football legends in the past. Her signing has given hope to many young footballers from small towns who dream of playing on the global stage.