One of the best in the business

ASHIM BISWAS' is a story of grit and determination.

AMITABHA DAS SHARMA

ASHIM BISWAS' is a story of grit and determination. Just over a year ago, the diminutive forward was fighting poverty and obscurity before a chanced entry into one of the premier clubs in Kolkata — Tollygunge Agragami — opened a world of opportunities. Sports, especially football, instills the spirit that urges a player to challenge the adversities and dream big. The 20-year-old striker set a similar paradigm, breaking the shackles of penury to become one of the most sought-after names in Indian football.

ITI goalkeeper Gumpe Rime thwarts an attempt by Tollygunge Agragami's Ashim Biswas (airborne) in their NFL match in Bangalore. Biswas scored twice as Tollygunge emerged a 4-0 winner. — Pic. G. P. SAMPATH KUMAR-

The meagre earnings of father Ashutosh, whose job as a private bus conductor, gave the family of three hardly anything to dream beyond a square meal a day. It was then that Ashim found a fortuitous break as he was lifted from his suburban bearings by a messiah called Mantoo Ghosh, one fine day. Despite its status in the elite division of National Football League, Tollygunge Agragami has always been known more as the cradle of young talent and Ghosh, as the secretary, has been taking charge of initiating young recruits from across the State into big time soccer. Biswas' performance in a charity match caught the eyes of the Agragami secretary and he was soon drafted into club team. Starting as a little known novice, he found himself in the status of a star by the end of the season. As it remains, Biswas now aims to join Mohun Bagan, having excelled in his merit as one of the best forwards of the country.

Biswas' worth is weighed in the perspective that club football's subservience to foreign imports has reached an alarming state. While the names such as I. M. Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia, Dipendu Biswas and Alvito D'Cunha are fast approaching a phase-out, Ashim Biswas' ascendance has engendered fresh hopes. This can be well supplanted by the fact that he almost single-handedly helped Agragami retain its position in the elite stage of the premier club contest. Having done so, he became the highest scorer as an Indian in the seventh NFL, scoring 11 goals to break the hegemony of the foreigners.

Biswas' performance graph has been outstanding. From his exceptional show as a striker with the under-20 National team in the Asian Youth Championships last year to the brilliant goal that floored city giant Mohun Bagan in the NFL, it was a stupendous performance by the little dynamo.

India's English coach, Stephen Constantine, has always been generous in his praise for the knack and acumen of Biswas, who justifiably got his chance to play alongside his childhood idol, I. M. Vijayan, in the senior National team in the SAFF Cup in Dhaka in January. He is now a permanent fixture in the country's attack line, as is seen in the qualifiers for the 2004 Athens Olympics. Among his other admirers is the National team assistant and Agragami coach, Aloke Mukherjee. A former international, Mukherjee has hailed Biswas as a cerebral striker, which, added to his speed and ball-control, makes him one of the best in the business. One can hope that the prolific scorer goes from strength to strength in solving the long-standing need of a good striker to complement the likes of Bhutia.