May 31, 2018
Monu Goyat was at the national camp in Sonepat, but his fate was being decided at a posh hotel in Mumbai. At the Pro Kabaddi League’s fourth auction in as many years, the eight-digit mark was broken. Not once but six times. Goyat would be the sixth crorepati. He was sold to the Haryana Steelers for Rs 1.51 crore — the most expensive buy. “What will I do with so much money?” he repeats the question. “I don’t know.” The raider hails from Bhiwani, Haryana, and comes from a farming family whose biggest sporting name till now was his uncle Vijender Singh – not to be confused with the famed pugilist who won India its first ever Olympic medal in boxing. “My uncle was a big kabaddi player in his day and was even in the national team for an Asian Games,” he says.
“But he got injured during the camp and never made it to the team.” His hometown has a strong culture in both boxing and kabaddi. But after his uncle, who was the only professional sportsman in the family, the onus fell on young Manu to fulfil the void. A career in anything apart from kabaddi was not an option, not even in boxing. “When I was young, everyone would talk about how great my uncle was and how I have to be better. Maybe now I’ve come somewhere close.”
On the night, Goyat was purchased by a franchise owned by JSW, which also owns Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League. Coincidentally, the football franchise also set the record for the ISL’s most expensive player when they bought Sunil Chhetri for Rs 1.5 crore in the auction last year – just a lakh cheaper than what Goyat cost them. Goyat’s final price was Rs 22 lakh more than the second most expensive player Rahul Chaudhari, who the Telugu Titans bought for Rs 1.29 crore. For the past five seasons of the PKL, Chaudhari has been the posterboy for the league, and with a total of 710 raid points, the most successful raider. Before Chaudhari though, the bar had been set by raider Nitin Tomar and all-rounder Deepak Hooda, who were sold for Rs 1.15 crore each.
Interestingly, Tomar, who was sold to the Puneri Paltan, was the most expensive player at Rs 93 lakh in last year’s auction when he was bought by UP Yoddhas.
The navyman hails from Sonepat, a wrestling hub, and for long was considered the ‘black sheep’ of the family that had a background in Kushti.
“For a while people used to taunt me about not following the same path as most in my family,” Tomar says. “Now nobody dares. They’ve become kabaddi fans.”
Hooda in turn comes from Chamaria, a village near Rohtak, and was the second- highest paid player at the inaugural auction which saw him being sold for Rs 12.6 lakh (the purse at the time was Rs 60 lakh). His kabaddi career had actually begun when he saw the sport as the only means to support his family, especially after his father had taken ill and he had to support his sister and her two children.
“At that time, I had no ambition to play for the national team. All I wanted to do was earn money from local tournaments by winning ‘man of the match’ prizes,” he had told The Indian Express in 2015. “Somehow, people spotted me and then I got selected to bigger teams, and now here I am.”
Since the first season, Hooda has risen from being a nervy raider to a dependable all-rounder. Equally proficient is Rishank Devadiga, who though a raider has a good defensive work ethic. The Mumbai lad, who once worked as a waiter in a local five-star, will now earn Rs 1.11 crore from the UP Yoddhas. The first ever Kabaddi crorepati though was an Iranian, and the only defender to earn that sum. Fazel Atrachali, one of the most lethal right-corner defenders was sold to U Mumba – a team that had first secured his services back in the second season.