The Aizawl FC defender opens up about his team’s dream season, life in the northeast and much more…

Aizawl FC have been undoubtedly the story of this I-League season. With nine wins, three draws and two defeats from their 14 games, the northeast outfit sit at top of the table with 30 points. Three points clear at the top with four games to go, the Mizoram club are on the cusp of a dream title win that would supersede even Premier League champions Leicester City’s remarkable achievement.

One key cog in the Aizawl wheel has been right back, Ashutosh Mehta. The defender made the move north from Mumbai, following the footsteps of head coach Khalid Jamil, who has been the architect of one of Indian football’s finest fairy-tales. The former Mumbai FC man spoke exclusively to Khel Now on the season so far, his journey in football and more.

Ashutosh Mehta in action against his former side Mumbai FC in I-league

Mehta admits his family are big cricket fans, but his love for the beautiful game started as a child when he used to gather with his friends for a kick about in the evening and there was no looking back from there.

Asked when started looking at a career in the sport, he says it was during his college days when he got an opportunity to play for the Mumbai FC youth team.

Mehta left his hometown and the Mumbaikars to follow manager Jamil to Aizawl and the full-back said the decision to swap the metropolis for the far-flung northeast wasn’t an easy one. “It was very difficult for me to leave Mumbai FC as I grew up there. All my life I have played in Mumbai. But sometimes in football, you have to make a choice to take a chance. I am happy to play for Aizawl now,” he reflects.

Mehta says the Kuwait-born former India international is the most hardworking manager he has played under.  “His passion and dedication towards the game is what I like and also look up to. He is always trying to get a result out of a game,” he says.

Aizawl’s season maybe like a dream but the right-back says it’s an incomplete one as they target glory with four games to go. “We are taking it game by game and playing as a unit. We are happy things are falling in the right direction and a lot of credit should be given to our coach who exactly knows how to get the best out of individuals,” says Mehta when asked if the team is thinking of the title. “Yes we can and we will do everything possible to finish as champions,” he says confidently speaking of the possibility of winning the title.

Aizawl FC have been one of the teams to beat this season

Mehta says his understanding with Jamil played a key part in his decision to move to Aizawl. “I’ve grown as a player under him and I know how he wants his football to be played,” he elaborates. The defender admitted it took time for him to adapt to the significantly cooler climate in Mizoram but is thankful to the club, his teammates and the fans that helped him along the way.

The northeast club may be on top of the table but none of their players have found favour with India boss Stephen Constantine. While Mehta is disappointed, he’s taking the exclusion in his stride.  “It only motivates me to work harder and harder. Sometimes things don’t go your way but you have to keep fighting till the end. The Indian coach will have his own reasons and I respect that. As a footballer, I will always work hard and the rest will follow,” he says calmly.

At 26, Mehta knows there’s a lot more to achieve and says he works hard every day to improve his game to take himself to the next level.

Mehta in action against defending champions Bengaluru FC

When quizzed on the proposed merger between the Indian Super League and the I-League the defender said he’s in favour of a unified top flight and that the cash-rich league has been beneficial for the growth of Indian football. “The ISL has had a big role in the growth of Indian football. There were big names that came to play football in India. Football will only grow from here on,” he asserted.

Mehta concluded by delivering a message to all youngsters wanting to make it big in the game. “Push yourself every day and don’t stop until you get there. I know the hard work will do the needful.”