Promising striker

T. V. Mohammed Irshad was the top-scorer in football at the recent National Games in Kerala. By P. K. Ajith Kumar.

Kerala may no longer be the major power that it used to be in Indian football, but the State continues to produce promising players; not at the rate it once did, and the new kids may not be quite in the league of I. M. Vijayan or Jo Paul Ancheri, but the fact is that new talents do surface.

The football competition of the recent National Games which Kerala hosted, threw up a promising striker, almost out of nowhere. T. V. Mohammed Irshad also emerged as the top-scorer, with six goals from five games.

And it was not for Kerala that he scored those goals, but for Maharashtra! “I would have played for Kerala if I had been invited, but I am not surprised that I wasn’t considered by my native State, where nobody knew about me until the National Games began,” says Irshad. “I am glad though that I got an opportunity to play for Maharashtra, which has a nice team and a fine coach in Godfrey Periera.”

Irshad, 20, made it to the Maharashtra team after his consistently impressive displays for DSK Shivajians FC, Pune. He scored 30 goals for the club over the last one year. “I have become a better player after joining the club,” he says.

It was after a tour of Maharashtra with his academy from Kerala that Irshad was signed up by DSK. He says he owes a lot to M. Peethambaran, who coached him at TAS (Sports Academy Tirur) in Malappuram District.

“The academy is doing a good job,” he says. “I could learn a lot from Peethambaran.”

Irshad was also in the Under-19 squad of Viva Kerala, a Kochi-based professional club that had to be shut down due to financial constraints. “The demise of Viva was a major setback for players like me and for Kerala football as a whole,” he says. “The main reason why football is dying in Kerala is the lack of professional clubs. Kerala badly needs an I-League club.”

He says many players like him are forced to leave Kerala to pursue a career in football. “There is enough support for the game still, as we saw big crowds at the National Games,” he says. “And we saw bigger crowds coming for the Indian Super League games of Kerala Blasters in Kochi. The ISL has rekindled interest in Indian football, no doubt about it.”

To play for the Indian football team is one of Irshad’s ambitions. He hopes his good show in the National Games and hopefully an impressive display in the forthcoming Santosh Trophy in Punjab would get him noticed.

His coach in the Maharashtra team, Godfrey, has high hopes about Irshad. “He is one for the future,” says the former India player. “He is one of the more promising strikers in Indian football now. He has got good speed, great stamina and good height. And he is particularly good with headers. I was very impressed when I saw him play for DSK and picked him straightaway for Maharashtra.”