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5 things to know about the Birthday Boy : Mohammad Shahjahan

Written by: Tushaar Sachdeva

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The star from the Northeast celebrates his birthday today, 3rd October, as he turns 17.

One of the stars of the Indian Under-17 national team, Mohammad Shahjahan, is one of the key midfielders of the squad who also possess the skill set to play many other positions. Shahjahan was part of the Minerva Punjab FC side which played against the national U-17 team. India head coach Luis Norton de Martos was impressed with six players from the team and Shahjahan got the call-up to be part of the squad for the showpiece event.

“A sporting powerhouse,” exclaimed Abdul Manaf, Shahjahan's father, when told that there are as many as eight players from Manipur in the squad that will represent the country at the FIFA U-17 World Cup. 

We, at Khelnow, present you the insights of the midfielder life.

His passion convinced his Parents

Shahjahan’s father is a tailor who undertook side jobs to buy football boots for his child. “Before buying his first football boots for 250, which was expensive for us, I asked him, ‘What can you achieve by playing football?,’” said Manaf. “Pat came the little boy’s reply: ‘Baba, I think I have what it takes to play in the World Cup one day.’”

Shahjahan had a difficult path to make his way to the national team. He is a short glimpse of his life in the player's own words. The highly-rated 17-year-old’s talent was never in question. He was regular at the podium in age-group football. The competition for places, his diminutive physique and his parents’ struggle to make ends meet did not impede Shahjahan’s growth as a player. 

His siblings supported him before his parents

Shahjahan’s precocious ability also found a fan in his eldest brother, Suleiman, an autorickshaw driver. Suleiman enrolled his nine-year-old brother in a grassroots academy called Youth Organisation Sporting Club, which was not far away from the family’s residence at Khuri, around six kilometres from Imphal.

Shahjahan’s family could scarcely believe the youngest one in their household’s whirlwind journey. “I can never forget that day [when Shahjahan was picked for the India team],” said Suleiman. “All of us, including our father, cried a lot.”

He has performed well in previous tournaments

Shahjahan’s rise from an academy to the district- and, later, to a state-level player took little time. Biren Singh, YOSC’s coach and co-founder, remembers his former protege as a “dedicated, hard-working” student. “At YOSC, in the U-13 and U-14 tournaments, he won the best player award,” Singh said. “He was regular at practice. Shahjahan, Boris...they were a talented bunch.”

Shahjahan and defender Boris’ careers almost mirrored each other. Consistent performances at the district and the Manipur youth sides earned Shahjahan a trial at West Bengal’s Kalyani academy. Here, he was selected to play for the U-12 side, which in turn led to a call-up from the AIFF Elite Academy in Goa.

Mohd. Shahjahan will vie for a midfield slot in the U-17 Indian Football team 

He almost gave up football - only to take the last leap of faith

Proceedings would, however, reach a grinding halt for Shahjahan during the messy regime of former India U-17 coach Nicolai Adam. He nearly considered walking away from the game at the time. Adam preferred tall, strong players over technically gifted ones. Around 70-80 players from Manipur, Meghalaya, Sikkim and Mizoram were reportedly rejected by the former India U-17 coach.

Shahjahan fell down the pecking order and was played out of position. His family noticed a change in the midfielder’s demeanour. “I observed a change in his body language [when he was back home],” said Suleiman. “Though he didn’t express it openly, I felt as though he fell out of love with the game.”

Lack of game time and being tried out in multiple positions had taken a toll on Shahjahan. Manaf revealed that his son had mentioned the idea of “quitting the game altogether” during a conversation on the phone.


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Stint with Minerva was a resurrecting factor

At Minerva Punjab, then, Shahjahan found a lifeline around mid-2016. The Punjab-based club has enjoyed steady success in identifying and nurturing young talent. At a crucial juncture, the spring was back in Shahjahan’s step.

“I think Nicolai Adam changed his position,” said Amanpreet Singh, chief scout and assistant to Minerva coach Surinder Singh. “He is a midfielder and was played on the wing. He is hard-working despite his physique, but we gradually worked on that over time.”

Under Amanpreet’s watch, Shahjahan was realising his potential yet again. In the Nike Cup earlier this year, the Minerva youngsters breezed to the title. Shahjahan was a vital cog in his side, playing every match and scoring the third goal as Minerva beat Bengaluru’s Ozone FC 3-0 in the final.

“He was our main attacking midfielder,” said Amanpreet. “Against Mumbai, we won 8-0 and the combination of [Lalchhanhima] Sailo and Shahjahan was excellent.”

Published: Tue Oct 03, 2017 08:59 PM IST

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