Aruna Bag: A ride incredible to the international arena

NEW DELHI: At 18, when most teenagers are busy deciding what subjects to choose and which college to attend for advanced studies, Aruna Bag was faced with the dilemma of choosing between kabaddi and football.

Aruna decided to choose football over kabaddi at the age of 18, and it kicked off a remarkable journey that landed her with the National team within three years. In between, she dedicated herself to intense training and tireless endeavour to improve her skills. She faced numerous challenges along the way, but her passion and perseverance kept her going. She embraced the opportunities that came her way and by the time the defender turned 21, she was called up to represent the country.

“Since childhood, I played football and cricket with the local boys just for fun. My father, who used to play football in local leagues and tournaments in Bardhaman, inspired me a lot,” Aruna told the www.the-aiff.com from the National camp in Kolkata.   

“My sports teacher in school encouraged me to participate in sports like kho kho, kabaddi, football. At that time, my father used to regularly watch many football games at home on television, from where my interest, especially in football grew. After I played in school-level competitions, my teacher asked me to choose between kabaddi and football before the School National Games,” she said.

“I chose football,” she says. “I can’t describe it in words, what happened in me then but I think football became my weakness. A lot of credit for this transformation goes to my father.”

Aruna grew up in Kalna, a historic city in the Purba Bardhaman district of West Bengal, often called the “City of Temples.” Her father owns a cycle repair shop, while her mother is a housewife. She also has a school-going sister. Despite appearing to have a smooth journey, it wasn’t always easy for her.

She said, “I used to practice in the Asansol ground and travel from Kalna to Asansol every week, a nearly five-hour journey. I started following women football players like Ashalata di (Devi), and Dalima di (Chhibber) and asked myself if they could do it, why not I?

That’s when my hard work and dedication to football started. I always dreamt of playing for the national team, but I never thought that playing two seasons in Kickstart FC would lead me to play for the country. When I shared the news of my national team call-up with my parents for the first time, they were happier than me.” 

Aruna represented Karnataka in the Senior National Women’s NFC in the 2022-23 season. Then she played her first season in the Indian Women’s League (IWL) for Kickstart FC in the same year. She also participated in the Karnataka Women’s League (KWL) last season before staying back with Kickstart FC again in the 2023-24 season. She scored against East Bengal in the latest season of IWL and was named the player of the match. 

When asked about her domestic football journey, she said, “It’s not that I was performing consistently in all the seasons. In the first season of IWL, I used to be on the bench for Kickstart. I think, I didn’t impress the coaches in the earlier season, but I decided to play in KWL to improve my game. After KWL, this season, I was in the starting XI for most matches for Kickstart in IWL.”

Aruna got her national call-up during the Uzbekistan tour last month. She played her first game in the first of the two friendlies where she replaced Soumya Guguloth in the 89th minute. “That feeling was surreal,” she says. 

This is her second national team camp where she is currently preparing for the Myanmar challenge which will be played on July 9 and July 12 in Myanmar.  “In my second National camp, my main aim is to work harder, so that I can be considered for the starting eleven. The training in the National camp training is excellent, and I am learning a lot from it – especially the game style, and passing drills. From what I learned in Uzbekistan, they are technically strong, hold the ball, close down players, and release the ball quickly. That’s what we are trying to implement in our game before leaving for Myanmar.

“All the players here are senior to me. Some of them are my idols whom I follow and look up to. They are extremely helpful and motivate us a lot. It was a dream come true to play with players like Ashalata di whom I used to watch since childhood. I talk to her on a personal level about my game. She is sweet and makes me understand things. I try to follow her advice.

“I believe that with the way we are training every day, we can beat Myanmar. The coach wants us to keep the ball possession and aim to score as early as possible,” Aruna added. 

Aruna has a list of players she admires, including Sunil Chhetri, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Sergio Ramos. “Apart from Chhetri sir, I like Chhangte. His speed, ball control and endurance are something I am fond of. I am also a big fan of Cristiano Ronaldo because of his mentality. He has reached this place because he is mentally strong. I always try to follow these things,” Aruna said. 

Also Read: Panthoi craving for Myanmar challenge after Aussie sojourn

Also Read: FC Goa complete permanent signing of Mohammad Yasir on four-year deal

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