CHENNAI: Mohammad Nawaz knows what it is like to be rejected. He sure knows a thing or two on how to handle it as well. For years, Nawaz put his blood, sweat and tears into India’s U-17 World Cup preparations. But when the final team was announced, the Manipuri was left out. However, the teenager, instead of feeling bad for himself, took it in his stride and started working harder.
The result? He was picked as FC Goa’s first-choice keeper by coach Sergio Lobera. “To be honest, I am a strong boy. There was nothing much on my mind. It was the starting point of my career. After knowing that I was not part of the team, I got calls from legends Renedy Singh and Gouramangi Singh. They told me this is just the first step and things will get better in the future. I didn’t complain or anything. But in my mind, I wanted to because I was there from the start. I was upset for maybe 15-20 days. That was it. But then, I started working hard again and now I am here,” he said.
For a 19-year-old, comments such as this make you wonder how emotionally matured Nawaz is at such a young age. But a few minutes later, he reveals a softer side. Playing football since the eighth standard, he has been away from his family for a long time. While he absolutely cherishes the opportunity to do what he loves, he also wishes he had more time to spend with loved ones. “I have one brother and two sisters. All of them are studying. But I am not close to anyone, because I barely get to be home. They share a good bond. We talk and all but I think they have a better connection. I miss my family a lot. Sometimes when I stay alone in the room, I think of them and get a little emotional.”
After the U-17 World Cup snub, Nawaz was delighted with the chance to stand between the sticks for FC Goa. But that too did not last long. After getting four clean-sheets in 13 matches, an unfortunate injury against Mumbai City FC in February ruled him out for the rest of the season. He even missed the final against Bengaluru FC. But there was redemption as he lifted the Super Cup in the end. “I couldn’t even kick the ball properly for some time. But the coaches supported me.
That was really motivating. I worked very hard. I was not 100 per cent fit in the Super Cup as well. Now the aim is to start every game. I also want to win the Golden Glove and obviously the ISL.” But like every other player, there is one more thing that is in the top of Nawaz’s wish-list. “I have dreamt of playing for the national team for a long time now. I got a chance with the U-23 team. But I need to get to senior level. For now, it will be difficult. There are big names. But it doesn’t matter. If I keep performing in ISL and the coach notices, who knows, maybe I will get a call.”