From a paltry four appearances in the 2015-16 edition of I-League to being handed four starts in just seven games in the following season, 19-year-old Hitesh Sharma has come a long way.
The Jalandhar-born player started his football career at Chandigarh Football Academy and later joined the Tata Football Academy (TFA) in Jamshedpur. Hitesh was known for his accuracy and precision even at a young age at TFA. Described as a good reader of the game, this central midfielder was a cadet of batch number 12 at TFA. The youngster bade adieu to the institute in November, 2015. The convocation, originally scheduled for February-March 2016, was preponed as football clubs across the country were signing up players for India’s top-flight league and TFA did not want its graduates to miss the opportunity.
Luckily so, Sharma was one of the prospects who was picked up by an I-League club. He put pen to paper for Mumbai FC in 2015, thereby adding to the arsenal of The Mumbaikars and also filling up the U22 quota.
In 2015-16 chapter of I-League, the North Indian showed fleeting glimpses of his abilities. His box-to-box propensity, accurate reading of the game and awareness on the pitch were some of the USPs in his debut spell for the Essel Group-owned outfit.
This season, Sharma has pretty much stolen the lime light, till now. The youngster has been picked by gaffer Santosh Kashyap in starting XI more often than not, going to show that Sharma's talent is no more limited to just fulfilling the U22 allocation in the squad.
In the beginning, Hitesh was deployed as a center forward by the boss due to the absence of a striker in the team. Sharma, who is predominantly a central attacking midfielder, struggled to operate in the number 9 role. However, when shifted back to his number 10 position, the teenager came up with telling contributions. The young prospect teamed up well with Thoi Singh in midfield. In no time, the Manipuri and the 19-year-old Hitesh became dependable creative outlets for The Yellow Brigade.
Having played a total of 351 minutes so far in this season, Hitesh has undisputedly been one of the most consistent players in a Mumbai side that has been struggling. Though he is yet to get his name on the score-sheet, the starlet has been actively involved in the team’s gameplay. His ability to find team mates with precision passing makes Hitesh an indispensible part of the team at Mumbai.
Coach Kashyap has faith in the Punjabi lad and believes that destiny has a lot in store for him. "Hitesh Sharma is doing great, watch out for him in the future, I’ll make him a star! I am confident of his abilities," said the 50-year-old in one of the pre-match press conferences.
Hitesh’s positioning and game sense at the tender age of 19 proves he is on his way to be the next big star at Mumbai FC and also in Indian football. With more games under his belt, he will definitely improve and that only bodes well for Indian football at large.