At the age of 12, when most of us were unresolved about our outward appearance and entering a new patch of our lives, a certain Kean Lewis, born in Thane, Maharashtra, knew exactly what he was going to be in a decade’s time.
Two years on, after enrolling himself in the Premier India Football Academy (PIFA), Lewis found himself training with Leicester City’s academy at the age of 14.
“The experience was very different. I had gone there for about a month and a half,” Lewis told SportsAdda while sharing his experience in the UK.
“The entire setup there was new to me. I trained with the U-16s and U-14s but lived with the U-20 players in the digs. I was part of their post-season games, something that I had never heard of in India."
“Everything was very professional from the moment I got off the plane. It was a very hospitable, yet challenging, especially in terms of the game's speed and physicality. The weather played a role as well as I was not used to playing in the cold, although I learnt to adapt rather quickly.”
Lewis, who began his career as a striker, continued to impress his coaches at Leicester, and as he would have planned, an offer to join the Foxes’ academy program at the end of his stint was in the pipeline. Being a minor, however, turned out to a be an obstacle because agreeing to the terms would have meant that his parents would have to move to the United Kingdom as well.
“The next memory is of being offered to join their academy program there at the end of my stint,” Lewis added.
“But legally, I was a minor, and for me to join their program, my entire family would have to relocate to Leicester. At that moment in time, there was uncertainty about me making it to the professional stage and also, it was a big decision for my family to make, given that it wasn’t easy in India itself.”
Lewis moved back to India and had a fleeting period with the Mahindra Football Academy and the Tata Football Academy for two years before travelling to the United States in 2010. After having played for Fairleigh Dickinson Knights and the U-23 side of Houston Dynamo, and Laredo Heat in the west until 2015, Lewis returned to the country.
The winger was, in fact, tricked by his agent to terminate his contract with Laredo Heat, stating that Bengaluru FC were interested in handing him a contract. Upon returning in 2015, verity unravelled, and this is when he joined Mohun Bagan.
“Until I went to the USA, I was a striker and that’s why I usually had more chances of scoring goals,” Lewis explained.
“To be honest, I was always searching for an opportunity to train with an I-league team. I made many efforts to just be able to go and attend training sessions, but all of them were either in the off-season or not willing to give me that chance. Not being from a sporting background, there weren’t many contacts that I had.
“When I returned to India for a tryout, the I-league was in its off-season, and through a member at Mohun Bagan, a video of mine was circulated in the hierarchy."
“This is how I got the chance to go on trial and that’s how I ended up signing for the club.
“I made my debut in the CFL (Calcutta Football League), playing almost all the games in the tournament. Given that we were the reigning champions then, there was always pressure to perform. The fans in Kolkata and management are all very passionate about the game, and that is something I loved about the city.”
After a brief stint with Mohun Bagan, Lewis lined up alongside the likes of Marcelinho and Richard Gadze to play for Delhi Dynamos in 2016. Under the tutelage of Gianluca Zambrotta, Lewis not only made 14 appearances in the Indian Super League, he also contributed four goals and two assists.
“To play in the I-league and then ISL were two of my biggest goals. The third being to play for the national team, which is yet to happen."
“ISL went from being a short-term league to a now year-round league, which is a positive. The next step that the players are probably waiting for is more games in a season so that more players get the opportunity to play and teams will have to show depth in their squad.”
After a fruitful tenure with Delhi Dynamos, the winger moved to Pune City FC where he only managed seven appearances in the season, clocking a mere 207 minutes on the field without bagging a goal or an assist. His 2017/18 season was marred by injuries coupled with a tussle with his then manager Ranko Popovic.
Ahead of the 2018/19 ISL season, Lewis was finally roped in by Bengaluru FC. Having played for three different ISL franchises, Lewis says every city has presented a different experience altogether.
“The journey has been a bumpy ride since I’ve played many games in a season and then few games in the another, but with all teams in the ISL, I’ve been able to be part of a fantastic family and reach the playoffs with all teams.
“Winning the title with Bengaluru was a different feeling altogether. Every year has been a challenge with success and failure, but just being part of the team with the camaraderie is irreplaceable. Every city has been a unique experience, from the kind of people and fans, the food, and the weather, which all contribute to the overall journey as an athlete and person. The relationships and rapport that we develop with other players and management are of great value to us as individuals.”
Lining alongside club and country captain Sunil Chhetri has been an absolute privilege for Lewis, and he says there's a lot to learn from the experience of his skipper.
"Everyone wishes to play with the best in the nation. I had the privilege to do this for two seasons at BFC. We both shared the same position on the field and so it was very competitive as well. Having played for so many years and with multiple accolades under his belt, there is a lot to learn from Chettri bhai (brother). I would say more than the joy of playing alongside him would be the learning that I gained, both in terms of games style and mentality."
Feature image courtesy: Twitter / @KeanFLewis