In Conversation with Mumbai Strikers calm aggressor Manthan Mehta

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Mumbai Strikers Right Back Manthan Mehta talks about his stint in Mumbai Football. Mumbai Strikers Right Back Manthan Mehta talks about his stint in Mumbai Football. Pic courtesy: MSSC

Today in our latest edition of IN CONVERSATION, we have one of the first players MS recruited from out of Mumbai. He originally belongs to Bhavnagar in Gujarat and started playing football since the age of 10. He started his career in Mumbai with Sporting Mulund FC in the 3rd division of Mumbai Football. Attracted by his unpolished aggression and tackling ability, MS lifted him up to their main Super Division squad in the year 2016. A full throttle runner in his early days, he represented his school at the District Level athletic meets. A Mechanical Engineer at one of the most renowned organization in the globe, let’s talk to our Calm Aggressor, Manthan Mehta.

When did you come to Mumbai and how did you get to know of MS?

Mumbai became my second home since 2015. The first thing on my list after arrival was to search for one of the best football clubs of the city and become a part of it. Co-incidentally, one of the best clubs in Mumbai was near the place where I used to live in Mulund. Initially, I played weekend games at St. Pius X High School Ground, where I met Leon Menezes and Rohit D’Souza our clubs founding members. While playing in the 2015-2016 season with our junior team Sporting Mulund FC in Division 3, I was asked to show up for a trial at the MS Senior team training session. Further, I got the opportunity to perform in one of the trial matches, but unfortunately, I had a minor collision in the game due to which I suffered a tear in my Right Knee (ACL injury). It took me 6 months to recover and make a comeback for the main squad selection. I could successfully make it inroads to the main squad in the very same season. Honestly speaking, for me, I played one of my best seasons with MS.

Tell us about your football journey back in your hometown, Bhavnagar.

During my school days, I represented Bhavnagar City team for State Level tournaments at U-14, U-17, U-19 and Open Categories. I represented my college team and captained the team in final year. I continued playing for Bhavnagar City’s senior team during this period. All my efforts for the game until 2014-15 were rewarded with a selection in 25-member squad for Gujarat team for the prestigious Santosh Trophy. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it through to the final playing squad.

How different is the football culture in Gujarat from Mumbai and which one do you feel is better?

I have spent roughly 5 years playing in the senior category in Gujarat and Mumbai respectively. The culture in both these places is radically different. Club culture was at its nascent stage in Gujarat when I played there. It was more of a city vis-à-vis city tournaments in Gujarat and very less of inter club games. In recent years, I have seen significant improvement in the football culture and even the quality of football being played in Gujarat after the infrastructure of football was improved. Especially, the International Stadium (Transtadia) at Ahmedabad where the Intercontinental Cup was held a few years back which attracted the many young and enthusiastic people. Also for the first time now, a team ARA FC from Gujarat is representing in I-League 2, which is a proud moment. Football in Mumbai is more competitive. With the club culture and multiple leagues running over a span of 4 to 5 Months, does not just keep the players engaged in the game, but also improves their game quality.

While at MS you have assumed different roles, sometimes in the midfield and at times in the defense. How do you adapt in terms of your mindset when you get into games?

In a competitive club like MS, one needs to always keep the mindset positive and do the best when the opportunity is provided. There is always some pressure at the back of the mind and at the same time I believe that the player sitting on the bench during a game is equally competitive. This helps me in staying positive and giving my best in whichever position I’m playing.

I have played as a Right Back, Left Back, Defensive Midfielder and even on the Right Wing. I believe that the team is more important than anything else. For every player it is important to understand and play according to the coach’s strategy. To be specific, we must perform as per the demands of the game and the team.

How has the club helped you in playing these positions, considering they are different in their own way?

Since the time I have joined MS, I have noticed a lot of improvement in my game. The coach has helped me a lot to improve my game. Over a period of time, I can see my transformation from an aggressive and ruthless tackler to a contemplating and pensive defender. Needless to say, I’m very fortunate to have learnt from the experience and skills of the senior players in the club. One thing I can be relaxed about is that I always have experienced coaches and players around me to correct me on and off the field. This has helped me to adapt to play at various positions and achieve the best of my potential.

Your stay in Mumbai is mainly for professional purposes. How did you manage working and playing in this fast moving city?

Well, managing doesn’t get difficult if the activity you do is the one you love. Football is not just a game for me but a part of my life. It is a fact I came to Mumbai for a professional engineering career. But after playing with MS for so many years, my stay is no longer for professional purpose only.

An intense practice session early in the morning and later a demanding 8-9 hours at work appears a difficult combination to meet every day. But, I think you have to do anything for things that matters the most to you. Moreover, pushing myself an extra mile makes me happy and gives a triumph feeling every day. And I can happily say, “I start my day doing the thing I love”.

Which player do you look up to as a role model and which is your favorite club?

Carles Puyol, a brave hearted leader, a passionate captain and a player with insatiable hunger for winning. As hard as a nail on the court, he is the icon for respect. When I started watching football, I fell in love with the way FC Barcelona played. The way three maestros Xavi, Iniesta and Messi made the ball talk on the field was inexplicable.

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