As India prepares to debut in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup against the United States on Friday at the Jawaharlal Stadium in New Delhi, Kannoly Praveen Rahul will be the only Keralite in the 21-member squad.
Rahul was born on March 16, 2000, in Ollookara, Thrissur, not far from the residence of Indian football stalwart IM Vijayan.
Although his parents were keen on Rahul getting a government job, Rahul stuck to his dream and prioritised football.
His uncle Pradeep KB, his first coach, made sure that he followed his dream even though Rahul's school did not have a football team.
âHe stood by me like a rock through my growing up years and gave me the confidence to match up against guys who were older to me,â Rahul told Scroll in an interview.
âMy uncle was my right-hand man. He was the one who bought me my first footballing gear,â he added.
It was Pradeep, an autorickshaw driver, who was also a local star thanks to his success in local 7-a-side tournaments, who got Rahul interested in the game initially.
âWhen Rahul began hanging out with me and my friends, he developed a liking for the game,â Pradeep told The New Indian Express.
It was the same local tournaments that ensured that Rahul seals a place in the Thrissur U-14 side and eventually caught the attention of the All India Football Federation scouts during an inter-state tournament held in Kolkata in 2013. Following that Rahul chose to relocate to Goa and train at the AIFF facility there.
"It was the turning point in his career. After he returned to Kerala from the U-14 Nationals, we received a call from the U-17 team manager asking Rahul to report to the camp. But little did we realise then that our son is going to represent the country in U-17 World Cup being played in our own backyard," Praveen told The Times of India.
Rahulâs favourite position is centre-forward but he can also play at the flanks given his pace. But at the Indian youth set up, he has also played as a wing back. His aggression is his USP according to his coach at the junior level.
He had also scored for the Indian side in a friendly match against the Italian youth side leading to a 2-0 victory in May.