My aim is to help SC East Bengal end the season on a high: Irshad

Panaji, Dec 11: SC East Bengal bagged their first point in the Hero Indian Super League after they restricted Jamshedpur FC to a 0-0 stalemate in their fourth fixture, at Tilak Maidan on Thursday.

Despite being reduced to 10 men at the 25-minute mark, after midfielder Eugeneson Lyngdoh was given his marching orders, the Red-and-Golds managed to eke out a draw and thwart all opposition attacks that came their way—thanks to a spirited performance by the defenders.

SCEB centre-back Md Irshad was adjudged the Player of the Match for putting in an impressive shift in the heart of the defence.

A day after the game, the 26-year-old spoke to on a wide range of subjects, including his performance the day before, the team’s strategy at half-time, his views on the Hero ISL, Head Coach Robbie Fowler’s impact on the team, his experience of sharing the dressing room with the likes of Danny Fox and Scott Neville, his hobbies, football in Kerala and his newfound success, in this freewheeling chat.


On being adjudged the Player of the Match last night…

The Kerala-born defender is happy to have contributed to his team’s cause on Thursday. ‘It was my dream to play in the Hero Indian Super League and I’ve got the opportunity this year, thanks to SC East Bengal. I’m really glad that I’m playing for SCEB because it is one of the biggest clubs in India. I delivered my 100% yesterday and we should carry forward this confidence going ahead. I would like to thank our supporters for standing by our side,’ Irshad said.

On eking out a draw despite playing with ten men and the dressing room talk at half-time…

Reflecting on SC East Bengal’s strategy for the better part of the game, the 26-year-old said, ‘We started off really well, but Eugene bhai’s (Lyngdoh) red card was a big blow for us. When we went back to the dressing room at half-time, our Head Coach told us to play defensively because that’s what the situation at that stage warranted. We followed his instructions and played accordingly in the second half. [It’s] Not easy when you’re down to ten men, but we were determined to win at least a point.’

His feelings on playing in his maiden Hero Indian Super League season…

SC East Bengal are currently participating in their maiden Hero Indian Super League season, and so is Irshad. On being asked about his views on India’s top-tier football competition, the defender answered, ‘I’m obviously very happy to play in the Hero ISL because it is a very competitive tournament. It couldn’t have got any better than playing for SC East Bengal.’

On rubbing shoulders with Danny Fox and Scott Neville…

It’s hard to imagine a defender who makes incessant tackles during a game being meek and shy. But believe it or not, Irshad is very soft spoken and it’s not an easy job for the interviewer to get him to open up. Irshad, though, is thoroughly enjoying his time in the Red-and-Gold camp as he is getting to rub shoulders with experienced pros like Danny Fox and Scott Neville. What is he learning from them?

‘They are very good players and have played for a lot of big clubs around the world. I’m very lucky to be playing with them. Every day, in every training session, I’m taking tips from them and learning new things,’ Irshad added.

Talk during the team huddle after #SCEBJFC

‘We went into the game having lost the previous three matches, but our Coach motivated us and said that we had to win at least a point at any cost. It felt good to end the game with a point in the bag,’ the 26-year-old revealed.

On his transition from striker to centre-back…

There are many footballers who became more successful after a role change. For example, Franz Beckenbauer played as an attacking midfielder at the 1966 FIFA World Cup, but became a defender thereafter. Irshad, too, has a similar story. In 2015, he played for Maharashtra in the National Games as a striker and finished the tournament as the top scorer with six goals. However, he has now adapted to a deeper role in the heart of defence. Talking about this transformation, Irshad said, ‘I suffered an injury after the National Games, but I worked hard and returned from the injury to join the Indian Navy team. After that I went to Gokulam Kerala (in 2017), where Binu George was the Coach at that time. He was the one who put me in the backline and this was how I became a defender. Now I can play in any position.’

On being coached by Robbie Fowler...

Ever since it was announced that Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler would take charge of this new-look SC East Bengal side, there has been a lot of excitement among the fans. Like many of his Indian teammates, Irshad feels that this is a big learning curve for him. ‘He [Fowler] is a legend! He knows the ability of each player and always looks to get the best out of us. He always motivates me and gives me a lot of advice as to how I can improve,’ Irshad said, with a broad smile on his face.

On his preparations ahead of a match day…

Staying inside a bio-bubble due to the Covid restrictions has made the psychological aspect of the players doubly important. Irshad feels that praying in the morning helps him stay cool for the remainder of the day. ‘I think praying in the morning helps a lot to remain focused on match days. I also watch highlights of my own game and try to figure out the areas where I can get better. Whenever I’m free, I watch past or live matches of my favorite footballers and go through their stats,’ he said.

‘Neymar and Alexander-Arnold are my favorite footballers’

Irshad was surprisingly quick to come up with an answer, when asked who his favorite footballers are. ‘Neymar and Trent Alexander-Arnold are my favorite players. I watch their videos before playing any match,’ the defender said.

On his goals for the ongoing season and for the long-term…

Irshad, at present, has his eyes set on helping SCEB finish the season on a high. Speaking about his personal goals, Irshad said, ‘My goal as of now is to help my team do well, so that we can make the supporters happy. This is our first season in the Hero ISL and we’re working very hard to bag positive results. We’re a good team and there’s no reason why we can’t win the competition.’

On Kerala’s football in general and I.M. Vijayan’s impact there…

Talking about the game in his home state, Irshad said, ‘Vijayan sir is a legend back in Kerala and I’m proud to hail from the same state as him. Football in Kerala is only improving day-by-day, with both Kerala Blasters FC and Gokulam Kerala doing well in their respective leagues. A lot of talented footballers are coming up through the ranks, which is a very good sign.’

On how his family is dealing with his newfound success…

Irshad had hitherto been a popular name in Kerala football, but after Thursday’s Player of the Match-performance against Jamshedpur FC, he’s bound to become a household name in Kolkata, too. So how has his family been reacting to his sudden rise to popularity? A lover of biryani, Irshad revealed that his family is very satisfied with his performance so far. ‘They watch each game on TV and are very happy. It has been a dream come true for me,’ he added before signing off.

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