Ashutosh Mehta will remember the 2020-21 season for multiple reasons. The Mumbai-born right-back had a stellar campaign in the Indian Super League, made his long-awaited debut for the Indian men’s football team, all, after recovering Covid-19.
Ashutosh, in an exclusive interview with news18.com, recalled how he recovered the virus and lauded the Indian Super League for successfully holding the tournament during a pandemic.
“Hats off to them for the way they organised the tournament,” Ashutosh Mehta told news18.com.
He went onto recover in time for the start of Northeast United FC’s ISL campaign. He was ever-present for the Highlanders, making crucial interceptions and going on to score his first goal in the tournament as well as providing two assists.
Khalid Jamil’s Man
Ashutosh joined NEUFC last season where he teamed up with Khalid Jamil, under whom he played at now-defunct Mumbai FC and Aizawl FC, where he won his first I-League title.
When asked about his relation with Khalid, the only Indian coach in ISL history who led his team to the ISL playoffs, Ashutosh confessed: “Every coach prefers their players and I am one of the players for Khalid.”
“It is the trust, the faith shown by him and for me it’s my job to deliver. I have been playing under him for more than a decade. He was my coach in the junior team and he exactly knows what I am capable of,” he added.
There have been rumours that the 30-year-old will be donning the red and maroon of Mohun Bagan again, with who he won his second I-League title in 2019-20.
Re-joining Mohun Bagan?
When confronted for an update, Ashutosh said he could neither confirm nor deny anything.
Posed the question of which team is his favourite, Ashutosh says ‘Mohun Bagan’ with a wry smile.
He was not retained following Mohun Bagan’s association with ATK to become ATK Mohun Bagan, given the wealth of talent at ATKMB’s disposal on the right side of defence. Ashutosh though is not worried about the competition and asserted that it is something that drives him.
“There is competition in every club. Wherever I have played, there has been competition and wherever I have gone, I have played. It is always good that you have healthy competition, one can improve. So, that won’t make much of a difference in my performance,” he said.
Ashutosh made his national team debut earlier in March, in India’s 1-1 draw with Oman in an international friendly. In an interview with AIFF, he had said that the first person who he called when he got the news of his selection in the squad was his mother.
When asked what his mother told him after the match, Ashutosh said: “When I told mummy that I am going to play football for the country, she asked – ‘So, what did you play before then?’. She doesn’t have much idea. People have been taking recently and my mother too I think is getting a better idea that – ‘Yes my son plays for India.’”
“She was very happy when I showed my jersey to mummy,” he added.
He personally was happy when he held the Blue Tiger’s jersey for the first time, after what calls a ‘12 year-long wait’ and the result of a ‘journey that was designed’.
Speed, physique, crossing, aggression
Ashutosh recalled what Indian men’s football team head coach Igor Stimac told him before his first international match.
“He called me to his room. He gave me a few tactical advice and said –‘I know this is your first time. I have been following you for quite some time. You have all the attributes to play at this level. You have the speed, physique, crossing, aggression. ’ – which gave me so much confidence. When the coach is telling you things about you, it surely will give you a boost,” he said.
On being asked what the team’s reaction was after the young Indian team lost 6-0, Ashutosh said: “Sometimes things don’t go the way you want but you have to keep fighting till the end.”
His plans for the upcoming season though remains to be better than what he managed the season prior and perform better.
“I am a person always willing to work and improve, learn and win. Wherever I go, I want to win,” he said.