The Minerva Punjab midfielder opens up about life after the FIFA U-17 World Cup, his plans for the future and much more.
One of the squad members of the India side in the FIFA U-17 World Cup last year, Mohammad Shahjahan now plies his trade for Delhi United in the 2nd Division League this season. Like several of his teammates from that squad, Shahjahan could not break into the limelight at the tournament, but he hopes that his parent club, Minerva Punjab will hand him first-team opportunities some day.
Shahjahan has a story impeccably made for the films, yet the player keeps a low profile and allows his game to do the talking. We caught up with him in a free-wheeling chat.
“Having done all that is required, there is always something or the other that needs to be done at the right time for the team,” said the Manipuri midfielder speaking on the sidelines of a 2nd Division clash. He also revealed that scoring more goals is on his bucket list. However, he has now gone back to Minerva after his loan spell with the capital club came to an end.
“I come from a family of 11 people including three brothers, five sisters and our parents,” started Shahjahan. “Initially my passion for the game convinced my father who works as a tailor, to buy my first pair of football boots,” he recalled before continuing, “My eldest brother believed in my ability and enrolled me at Youth Organisation Sporting Club, a grassroots academy under coach Ng. Biren and others.”
Watch: Khel Now Football’s interview with Mohammad Shahjahan before the FIFA U-17 World Cup
A regular on the podium in age-group football, Shahjahan won the Best Player award in U-13 and U-14 competitions. His performances resulted in him rising up to the district and state level in no time. Later, a trial at West Bengal’s Kalyani Academy where he was chosen to play for the U-12 side in the year 2012 finally saw him come into the spotlight in Indian football. Finally, Shahjahan first big breakthrough came when he was selected for the Indian preparatory camp ahead of the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
“Minerva Punjab being my first big stint in a professional setup was quite a learning experience and played a very important part in shaping my career,” the 17-year-old asserted before adding, “Club owner Ranjit Bajaj trusted in my ability and gave me the opportunity to prove my talent. I’m really grateful to him for laying the right platform for my career.’’
Shahjahan went on to talk about his home state of Manipur and the rise of several clubs there. “Manipur has always produced sportsmen over the years so it isn’t really a surprise that the state has produced some fine talent in football. There are few academies that are doing some very good work with limited resources,” he pointed out
“I hope we keep producing players that go on to represent the country and the main reason behind this is the sheer passion of the local people towards football and good financial backing,” he said before adding, “Even in local league matches the stadium is houseful in Manipur.”
The enigmatic youngster was asked about India’s chances at the AFC U-16 Championships, which will decide the representatives from Asia to the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2019. The midfielder sounded hopeful as he answered, “Our main test in the group will be against Iran who are also the runners-up of the last edition of the competition. If we win against tyhem then our chances are very bright to qualify for the next round.”
The starlet was also asked about the transition he has experienced since the World Cup. “The coverage and exposure by the media during U-17 Would Cup has brought football to a better level and has brought football to be seen in a better light by the fans and players together,” he revealed.
Shahjahan’s 5-a-side team
After the conclusion of the I-League this year, Minerva Punjab have seen a lot of their players being poached by heavyweight clubs across India. In a recent interview with Khel Now, the club’s owne Bajaj asserted that he has many more talents waiting to take on the baton of the Warriors even if all of his star players go.
When Shahjahan was asked about this he answered,” If I get a chance to play for Minerva, then I would definitely like to play for them. If the ISL comes calling then the first thing I will ask for is playing time. If they can give me first-team playing time, then only I will consider it otherwise it will be Minerva.”
India’s star performer at the U-17 World Cup as well as Shahjahan’s teammate, Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem was recently offered a contract by Scottish side Motherwell FC. When the Minerva midfielder was asked about his wishes to play abroad, he said, “The Scottish Premiership clubs’ standers are very high. Right now, I’m completely focused on my game here in India.”