Amidst the sea of yellow at Kochi's Jawaharlal Nehru stadium during Kerala Blasters' tie against FC Pune City , there was a motley bunch which cheered, whistled and clapped whenever Pune forward, Muhammed Ashique Kuruniyan, touched the ball.

The noisy group of fans, around thirty in number, had come all the way from Malappuram to cheer for Ashique, who swam against the tide to play in the country's richest football league.

Ashique didn't disappoint his supporters and played an influential role in his team's draw against the Blasters. He provided the assist for Marcelino and went on to win the emerging player of the match award for the second successive time.

In a matter of weeks, Ashique has transformed himself from nervous debutant to a dependable player for the Pune side. A natural left footer, which is a rarity in Indian football, he is well-built and is a tough defender to get past.

He uses his attacking instincts to not only keep an eye on goal, but also to assist fellow strikers. He got his name on the score-sheet when he scored against NorthEast United during his team’s 5-0 win .

"I'm pretty happy with the way I'm playing. It's nice to do well in front of your supporters. But I should thank my coach for showing faith in me and to my team-mates for encouraging and correcting me when I make mistakes," he said. 

When he dropped out of school to work in a juice stall in Malappuram to supplement his family's income and play football, never did Ashique think that his football journey would take him to Spain and to an ISL club.

-New beginnings-

His career got a fresh leash of life when MSP School Malappuram, the cradle of football in the district, offered him a scholarship to pursue his studies and play football. He was one of the early players who benefited from the Vision India Project.

However, the turning point in his career came when he was picked for the SAIL Academy while playing the under-15 Nationals for Kerala in Jharkhand. After completing his stint in the academy, he joined erstwhile I-league club FC Pune's academy after being persuaded to attend the trials by hero and well-wisher Anas Edathodika, who also hails from Malappuram.

A high point in Ashique's career came when he was sent on loan to La-Liga outfit Villarreal’s C team for a year by Pune FC. However, Ashique's tenure in Spain was short-lived as he picked up a hamstring injury and had to return home .

When Pune FC ended its football operations, ISL side Pune City brought its academy and Ashique became part of the new setup. After making his initial appearance as a substitute, he has now found a regular place in first eleven.

The 22-year-old says he has to improve as a player and has learnt a lot by closely observing foreign players. "I think I need to improve my physical fitness and other aspects of my game. The foreign players are more professional in their approach. I have learnt a lot from watching them. They are very helpful. I often speak to Anas and he gives me confidence and encourages me a lot, said Ashqiue whose ambition is to play for the senior Indian team in future.

"I would say donning the senior India jersey is natural progression after having played for the junior India teams. I have worked hard for it and it is my dream to play for India,’’ he concluded.