ATANU MITRA (FOLLOW @Atanu00 on Twitter)
On Sunday evening at the Kanchenjunga Stadium in Siliguri, Mohun Bagan defeated East Bengal 2-1 to earn the bragging rights in the Kolkata derby. Despite Sony Norde's sublime free-kick, it was the brilliant second goal by youngster Azharuddin Mallick which became the talking point after the match. We have listed down 11 points that an ardent follower of Indian football should know about the young striker.
1) Azharuddin hails from Dankuni, a town 30 kilometers away from central Kolkata. He comes from a very modest back-ground, his father being a worker in a small jewellery shop. Azhar is one of the eight sons and it was clear very early in his life that he will have to find a job in his teenage.
2) Even though no one in the previous generations in his family had ever taken football as a profession, Azhar decided to pursue a career in football like his elder brother Wasim Akram Mallick, who has played for a number of minnows in the Calcutta Football League.
3) Mallick had his first major break in football when he was selected for the Sports Association of India (SAI) academy in Siliguri aged 13. The youngster prospered there under the tutelage of coach Chandan Chanda.
4) Like many other young Bengali players of the the last 10 years, the player was given a taste of first team action for the very first time by United Sports Club. The youth team coaches of the state had already got to know about his rise but the player was not handed a place in the Santosh Trophy team.
5) The 2014-15 IFA Shield, which was contested among U-19 teams, brought the young striker under the limelight for the first time. Azharuddin scored a brace in the Purple Brigade's 7-0 win against FAO Academy, Odisha but it was his hat-trick against Pune FC in the semi-final that turned out to be the best individual performance of the tournament.
6) Scoring against East Bengal is nothing new for him as he had scored a brace against East Bengal in the IFA Shield final that year as the Red and Golds were defeated 2-1.
7) After his heroics against East Bengal, Sanjoy Sen, the former United Sports coach was interested to sign the young player from his former club. A phone call to club official Nabab Bhattacharya was enough as the 17-year-old was signed by the Green and Maroons.
8) During his first season at the club, chances seemed hard to come by with the likes of Balwant Singh, Jeje Lalpekhlua, Cornell Glen all vying for the slots upfront. When the stars were not present during the Calcutta Football league days due to their commitments in the Indian Super League, Mallick got to play a handful of local league matches.
9) Even though the rule set by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) meant that one U-22 player will have to feature in the starting XI, Sanjoy Sen was not interested to use him for longer periods as he was often taken off very early in the game. He played a total 240 minutes in the league last season making five starts. His maiden top-flight goal came against champions Bengaluru FC in a 5-0 win at the fag end of the campaign.
10) On Sunday, Azhar proved his mettle on the big stage, showing his presence of mind to catch East Bengal goal-keeper TP Rehenesh off the line with a brilliant lobbed effort. Having spent the formative years of his career at the Siliguri SAI academy, this was more like a goal scored at his home ground for him.
11) The 19-year-old comes across as a very shy and humble teenager, unlike many of his contemporaries. His team-mates from the IFA Shield winning sides Prabhat Lakra and Manotosh Chakladar were part of the Santosh Trophy winning squad last month, but coaches agree on the point that Azhar was the brightest prospect among them all.