ISL 2020-21 Player of the Fortnight: Halicharan Narzary, a well-rounded player

The 26-year-old Hyderabad FC winger possesses both skill and pace.

Living up to expectations: Halicharan Narzary of Hyderabad FC celebrates after scoring against Chennaiyin FC in the ISL, on January 4.   -  Sportzpics / ISL

There is plenty of excitement around the youngsters in the Hyderabad FC set-up and rightly so. The likes of Liston Colaco (22 years old), Mohammed Yasir (22), Hitesh Sharma (22), Asish Rai (21) and Akash Mishra (19) have formed the core of the club’s resurgence into becoming a play-off contender this season. But there is another domestic player, who is not quite in the age bracket of the aforementioned quintet, making rapid improvements to his all-round game: 26-year-old winger Halicharan Narzary.

Many would, of course, remember Narzary as the ‘one who shall not be dropped’ while playing for the national team during the final years of Stephen Constantine’s reign as head coach. Even if he didn’t contribute with an end product in his primary role as a winger, Narzary would continue to feature in the playing XI for the Blue Tigers, much to the dismay of the supporters.

Narzary, who possesses skill and pace, was preferred to be used as a functional footballer in both national and club colours. His numbers — two goals and seven assists from 59 matches before the 2020-21 season — from his ISL career don’t really make one sit up and take notice of him. He had spent six seasons at different clubs — FC Goa, NorthEast United, Kerala Blasters, Chennaiyin FC — where he never really found a starting XI role. Albert Roca, who signed Narzary for Hyderabad, before he took a coaching role at FC Barcelona, is an admirer of the Assam-born footballer’s attributes in the attacking third of the pitch. However, it is his successor, Manolo Marquez Roca, who has brought out the best in the player and is reaping the rewards in the process.

The season started with Narzary involved in fluent passing moves in attack but he ended them with ambitious shots from a distance. In his first two matches this season, Narzary failed to find the target in eight attempted shots. In fact, Narzary has taken the most shots (25) among the Indian players this season, which is 11 more than what he managed at Kerala Blasters last season. He is currently on track to better every past metrics of his ISL career.

In recent matches, he has developed a well-rounded game, contributing in attack with goals, creating goal-scoring chances, tracking back effectively with his tireless running and discipline. It was against Chennaiyin at the start of the year, when Narzary came up with two well-taken goals — a rifled finish with a first-time shot and a coolly taken finish after having run half the length of the pitch with the ball. This season, he is confident and isn’t averse to showcasing his skills.

At the end of the Chennaiyin game, it was as if Roca — in his first season in Indian football — was aware of the criticism Narzary had faced earlier. Roca praised his qualities, which would be welcomed by most coaches. “When Hyderabad signed him, we knew we signed a very good player. We knew about his quality, we knew he is a two-footed player. He can play as a winger, a winger who can come inside too and even play as an attacking midfielder. This is why he normally plays in the national team,” said the Spanish coach.