Kerala Blasters’ hero from their first match of this season’s Indian Super League (ISL), Mohammed Rafi expressed hope that a solid performance in this year’s tournament will help him add to his seven caps for India.
“Hopefully if I’m able to play well and keep scoring goals for Kerala over the course of the tournament, I will be selected for the national team. I would love to play again for India,” the forward said in an exclusive interview with Goal.
The Kasargode (northern most district of Kerala) born striker expressed his delight at having scored his first goal in the ISL for his home state.
“To play for and score for Kerala is precious for me because I haven’t played for a team in Kerala for almost 10 years. It was special and I thank God for having given me a chance,” he beamed.
Rafi also admitted that he felt some pressure playing in front of over 60,000 home fans especially after missing a couple of early opportunities to score.
“I was apprehensive about playing in front of such a big crowd, especially since I’m a Keralite. I was tensed as to whether I would disappoint them. I had a chance to score early on but I missed and I grew nervous. I missed one or two more chances and I was feeling like this would not be my day. When I scored the header, it felt extremely satisfying. I was more confident from then on,” recounted the player who features for Mumbai FC in the I-League.
Rafi holds the record of having scored the most goals by an Indian in an I-League season with 14 goals in the 2009-10 campaign for Mahindra United and said Sanchez Watt and Chris Dagnall were very supportive during the match against NorthEast United.
”Both of them were very supportive. They both are hard-working and keep communicating well with me as to our positioning and movement. It helped me a lot,” the 33-year-old revealed.
He gave glowing remarks about Blasters’ manager Peter Taylor, a former England U20 & U21 head coach.
“He is an extremely friendly coach. He is the same with all players. He demands 100% from us on the ground even during practice matches. He wants full commitment from us and we saw that pay off in the first game,” Rafi expressed.
“Though me and Vineeth are playing for Blasters for the first time, the rest of the squad keep asking us about Kerala as we are from here. They call us Kerala’s heroes (laughs). When we have free time, the foreign players especially seek our advice on which places to visit and other stuff. We are like a family here,” he expounded.
Rafi also believes pre-season in Thiruvananthapuram helped them settle into the climate in Kerala better and also says that four weeks together there helped them bond better.
“Our team doesn’t have divisions like foreign and Indian players. We train and practice together. Off the field also we are good friends and enjoy spending time together. It has helped us bond well and play better as a team,” the forward explained.He signed off with a dedication to his fans – “I’d like to dedicate my first ISL goal to my friends, family and well-wishers.”