Mohammed Irshad's ubiquitous influence all over the field has made him an important player at Gokulam Kerala. The 23-year-old Kerala-born footballer has played as an attacker, midfielder and as a defender for his club and his impressive skill set has put him in the limelight.
Speaking exclusively to Goal, Irshad credited his coach Bino George for the impressive displays. The Malayali coach is an expert when it comes to football in the state and has played a crucial role in assembling a strong Malayali contingent at the Kerala-based I-League club.
"I used to play as a striker initially. Then I became a midfielder. Now I am playing as a wing-back! I am comfortable here at Gokulam, the coach knows me and has given me the freedom to play my game. And that's a big thing for a player.
"Every coach has an idea about their players. It was because of Bino George that I could play well in multiple roles for the team. He told me that I am performing well at each position. For most of the season, I played as a wing-back.
"Bino George interacts well with the players. We can directly speak to him about our concerns. He is friendly and has given us the freedom to speak. He is strict on the ground and during practice but outside of that, he talks with us and is very open."
Gokulam Kerala's season did not start well. They struggled to get points from the game owing to lack of a good foreign contingent in their squad, something that Irshad rues.
"I feel very happy now. We could not sign good foreigners at the beginning. And there were a lot of injuries as well. The team that started the I-League season was different from the team that played friendlies in pre-season. The team chemistry was lost.
"Then we signed good foreign players and we garnered experience and confidence by playing well later in the season." The remarkable thing about the club's inaugural I-League journey has been their style of play. Gokulam have been a delight to watch and never once opted to go on the defensive, even against the big teams. When they beat eventual champions Minerva Punjab, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, Bino George wanted his team to play attacking football.
"It was when the new players arrived that we started playing the way that our coach wanted us to play. The main idea was to keep possession of the ball and play short passes. That was what the coach wanted.
"(Mudde) Musa can intercept balls in the defensive midfield and spray it forward, Al Ajmi can pass the ball really well and feed the forwards. These players helped us play good football in a style that Bino George wanted," revealed Irshad.
Irshad had a forgettable stint at DSK Shivajians in the 2015-16 season of I-League where he made just two substitute appearances. But he then joined the Services football team to gain experience and that's where he learned how to face the bigger challenges in his career.
"I-League is a different experience, it is hard. I wasn't nervous though. After my stint at DSK Shivajians, I played for the Army team. I got rid of my nerves by playing football there. I was excited to play in the I-League.
"People watching us, knowing about us gives us a sense of responsibility to perform and improve. We shouldn't go below our current level of performance, we should go up a few more levels."
As Mohammed Irshad looks to raise his performance levels, he has a dream to fulfil.
"Playing for the national team is every player's dream. If I do well in I-League and then get selected for the national camp, hopefully, I can perform well and get into the team."