Ashutosh Mehta was an instrumental figure for Khalid Jamil in Aizawl FC during the 2017 I-League winning season. Co-incidentally, it was Aizawl's 1-0 win against Mohun Bagan on the penultimate matchday that decided the fate of the championship and Mehta played a key role in containing the talismanic Sony Norde.
"Just the night before the Bagan game, Khalid came to my room. He just told me one thing, 'do not allow Norde to play his natural game'. So, my job was to just ruffle Sony. It is always tough to play against a player of his calibre but I think I did a decent job against him on that day," said Mehta to Goal reminiscing the events from that fateful afternoon when Zotea Ralte's 83rd header sealed the three points for Aizawl.
The Mumbai-based versatile player calls his tenure with Aizawl as the "sweetest spot in his career". After winning the I-League, he was roped in by ATK for the next Indian Super League (ISL) edition where he had a decent campaign featuring in 12 games for the Red and Whites, despite ATK's struggles. He made the right-back position his own and his menacing overlapping runs were a constant threat to opposition defence.
Mehta's time with ATK made him well aware of the football culture in Kolkata and to join Bagan has been a dream come true for him.
"My first professional game was against Mohun Bagan, my 100th match was also against Mohun Bagan. For an 18-year to make his debut against such a massive club, it was an overwhelming experience. The fans rooting for Bgan was surreal and that's what spurred me to dream that one day I will wear the famed green and maroon jersey. In fact, twice I came very close to signing for Bagan but somehow it did not work out. Everybody has a dream club and for me, Mohun Bagan is my dream club."
The Calcutta Football League (CFL) is just a month away and Mohun Bagan are the defending champions. The popularity of CFL has been growing with each passing year and the former Mumbai FC man is licking his lips in what could be his first appearance in the much-acclaimed Kolkata Derby.
He has always been one of the fittest players in the Indian circuit and he is already keeping himself for the challenges at Bagan.
"I know, the fans in Kolkata expect a lot. For them drawing a match is like losing. Teams like Bagan step on the pitch only to win. Last year, Bagan won the Calcutta Football League (CFL) after many years and this year we will give our all to defend it. Also, I am yet to play in a Kolkata Derby. Therefore, I'm very excited to get on the pitch and I am already following a strict fitness regime so that I am match-ready once I reach Kolkata."
But for in the previous season for FC Pune City, the defender played for just under 500 minutes. Whereas, Arijit Bagui in the right-back position was one of the few bright sparks for the Mariners, in what was otherwise a disappointing season. But Mehta feels that it was always good to have competition. Bagui has been doing great. I have to keep things simple. Keep my head down and work hard. I hope this healthy competition will help me make a better player."
With a new manager at the helm of affairs in Kibu Vicuna, the I-League winner will leave no stone unturned to make a mark in Kolkata. His stints with ATK and Aizawl has shown that he has the potential to be a trusted lieutenant at the back and the CFL will provide him with the perfect platform to get accustomed to the new surroundings so that he can perform at his best in I-League.