IT'S BEEN A FEW DAYS SINCE Mohun Bagan have begun their pre-season practice sessions and things have already caught on full pace. The I-League champions begin their season on 9th August with a match against Mohammedan Sporting in the Calcutta Football League.
With many key players missing from the squad due to national team and ISL pre-season duties - including their charismatic star forward (and now the marquee player) Sony Norde - head coach Sanjay Sen is keen to build an effective interim team with a lot of youth mixed with the right amount of experience. Part of that plan is to have a number of new players over on trial. One of these new faces flocking to the Green and Maroon tent to try their luck is Mumbai lad Kean Lewis.
The 22 year old has a history unlike most other Indian footballers. His foray into football started with a trial at Leicester Football Academy at the age of 14. He continued his coaching at Mahindra United Academy, then at the Tata Football Academy. But here his path diverged from his fellow apprentices as he went off to Fairleigh Dickinson University in the United States to get a degree in Sports Management. He regularly played for his university soccer team at the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division 1, and after graduation joined the 4th Division soccer club Houston Hurricanes, while being empoloyed full-time as a coach in some football organisations.
His chance to play football professionally came when MLS club Houston Dynamo called for trials for their U-23 team. Out of 250 hopefuls, Lewis was one of the few to make it. During his 2 months with them, he got to play two matches against a Mexican and a Brazillian club side, where he notched up a goal and an assist.
Following the summer training session, Lewis was given a coaching role in the Houston Dynamo academy and grassroot programme, while he continued playing in their local league side. During that time, he was spotted by a scout from the Mexican Segundo Division side Inter Acapulco. He was given a trial at Acapulco, which he accepted. He trained with them for 5 months and the feedback was positive: he was all set to be given a professional contract. But fate stuck and the club folded. Robbed of that golden opportunity, Lewis was still not willing to be discouraged: he actively started looking for teams in India. Opportunity arrived when Sanjay Sen, looking for a versatile winger to fill in for Sony Norde at the CFL, was impressed by his CV.
A 5 foot 7 agile player, Lewis has a versatile portfolio. He started his career as a striker, but at the university team he became a winger. But the next year he was switched back to a striker position and played well. At Dynamo U-23, he played again in the flanks, but his keen sense of passing and instinctive track-back defending made him successful as a midfielder, too, whenever he was asked to play in that position. This gives him especially good chance to be at Mohun Bagan, a team that is being largely re-built with new players.
Other Indian players on trial at Mohun Bagan include Salgaocar's John Valdes and AIFF Elite Academy's Robinson Singh. Both of them have strong profiles, and up against them are a number of graduates from Mohun Bagan's own academy. So Kean Lewis has his work cut out. If he manages to impress Sen, there might be more than CFL on the cards for him. Come January, Mohun Bagan will play not only in the I-League, but also in the AFC Champions League qualifiers. A run out at that level is the dream of any young player like Lewis, and can give a huge boost to his dream of finding an ISL franchise in 2016.