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Mohammed Rafique

ISL 2018-19: Time for Mumbai City FC midfielder Md. Rafique to reinvent himself

07:59 GMT+4 19/09/2018
Mohammed Rafique Delhi Dynamos FC Kerala Blasters FC ISL semi final season 3 2016
This is the first time that the midfielder will step out from his familiar Maidan conditions for a full fledged season after signing with Mumbai City

Mohammed Rafique is a household name in West Bengal courtesy of his lengthy playing stint in the Kolkata Maidan. The Sodpur-born midfielder comes from a humble background with his father working at a jute mill to make ends meet. 

But that not deter a young Rafique from following his passion and he joined the youth ranks of Tollygunge Agragami. After graduating from the academy, he made the leap to senior level at the tender age of 18 when he was signed by United Sports in 2010. Although he managed only a handful of appearances in his first two seasons, he went on to establish himself as an undisputed starter in the final two seasons under the guidance of current NorthEast United head coach Eelco Schattorie.  

When United Sports decided to shut shop, Rafique was immediately lapped up by Kolkata giants East Bengal in 2014. Since then he has been plying his trade with the Red and Golds until he decided to jump ship and join Mumbai City FC for the upcoming season.  He has also appeared for ATK and Kerala Blasters on loan when the Indian Super League (ISL) and I-League had two different windows in the footballing calendar. 

Rafique's career has not had a smooth sailing. He has had his flashes of brilliance but has never been a consistent performer. He shot to instant fame when he scored the winning goal of the inaugural edition of the ISL when he headed past current Kerala Blasters head coach David James deep in injury time to land the trophy in Kolkata. In spite of scoring the tournament-winner, he did not find any takers in the ISL draft in 2015 although he was later roped in as a replacement by ATK. 

But Rafique could not impress Habas once again and was primarily used as a substitute. In eight appearances, he managed to get only 279 minutes on the pitch. His passing numbers did not even reach the three-digit mark while he managed to have only two shots at goal. 

But Rafique had been performing well in the local leagues. He had been among the goals for East Bengal regularly in the Calcutta Football League and helped them lift their record sixth successive title. He notched up four goals including a strike in the Kolkata derby and came in for praise from Trevor Morgan for his versatility. 

But once again his form deserted him on the national stage. Although he racked up 658 minutes in 12 appearances in I-League, he found the net only once whereas his assist column remained blank. 

A recurrent problem throughout his career has been his inconsistency. His fluctuating performances have never helped him realise his full potential. 

In 2016, he joined Kerala Blasters as ATK preferred Jewel Raja and Bikash Jairu ahead of him. Although he found regular minutes at the start of the tournament under Steve Coppell, his lack of impressive performances relegated him to the bench at the business end of the league stage. In 805 minutes, he sprayed 292 passes with only 53% of them finding a player in yellow. 

In 2017-18 I-League, he once managed to grab his share of fleeting brilliance when he scored a stunner against Gokulam Kerala FC to fire East Bengal to the top of the table. But as the season progressed, his form waned. Rafique looked clueless in the 2-0 derby loss against Mohun Bagan and apart from assisting a late-winner against Indian Arrows, he rarely managed to contribute notably in front of goal. 

Also, he was poor for India in their away game against the Kyrgyz Republic in the Asian Cup qualifiers earlier this year and has not made another appearance for the national team since. 

The upcoming season will be his first when he would spend an entire calendar without kicking a ball for a Kolkata-based side. With age on his side, the 27-year-old midfielder can kickstart a new phase in his career. Getting minutes will be a tough job for Rafique as the Islanders boast of some notable names at the centre of the park in the likes of Sehnaj Singh, Matias Mirabaje, Milan Singh, Paulo Machado and Raynier Fernandes. 

But Rafique can play on the wings as well as the midfield - a trait which come useful. Head coach Jorge Costa has given him three-starts in four pre-season games which is a welcome sign for him. If the former ATK player can make the most of the opportunities handed to him and more importantly show some more consistency, this can be a new beginning for him.