After Kolkata derby heroics, Kiyan Nassiri keeps his feet on the ground


He came, he saw, he conquered!

This English phrase is used all too loosely to depict sporting achievements. But there couldn't be a more apt way to describe Kiyan Nassiri’s heroics for ATK Mohun Bagan in the Kolkata derby against SC East Bengal in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) on Saturday.

After coming on in the second-half with ATK Mohun Bagan trailing by a goal, he scored a 30-minute hat-trick to win his team the three points and become the youngest player in Hero ISL history.

The match can be split into two halves. One pre-Nassiri, a tight and tactical game with very little to choose between the two teams, and the other post-Nassiri, where one man far superior to the other 21 players on the pitch took the game by the scruff of its neck and weaved his magic.

For the football romantics, this was the near-perfect outcome. A young Indian player coming off the bench to make such a telling impact on the match. Add to this, he is the son of a former Indian football icon. To make it more precise, he was a son of an East Bengal legend who lit up the Kolkata derby scoring a hat-trick for their bitterest rivals ATK Mohun Bagan. A script straight from the football Gods.

It also had something for the football tragics who are often invested in the finer nitty-gritties of the game: Nassiri’s technique and calmness in front of goal.

The 21-year-old’s hat-trick had signs that it may not be just a flash in the pan, not an one-off. He seemed at ease on the pitch and especially in front of goal, where even the most seasoned players feel the pressure. Nassiri found the back of the net thrice and each time it felt like he was playing in his backyard and not in the high-pressure Kolkata derby, the biggest game in Kolkata and probably even in Indian football.

Even after the goals, there was no flashy celebration, just a few smiles as if it was routine stuff. ATK Mohun Bagan fans would hope that is the case in the time to come, but Nassiri, the 21-year-old starlet for whom the expectations come with the name on his back already knows that he has a long way to go.

With all the limelight flashed upon him and talks of a potential Indian national team call-up already doing rounds, he remains as calm as he was in front of goal at the Fatorda on Saturday.

“Of course, I'm very happy. I have put my name up there with two Indian football icons so I’m very happy and everyone wants to play for the Indian national team and so do I,” Nassiri told the ATK Mohun Bagan media team in an interview after the match.

“But in order to do that I need to get more game time, play step by step, do better things in training and improve on myself and I will surely get my chance,” he added humbly.

Having seen his father Jamshid Nassiri make his name for himself in Indian football, he has seen from close quarters what it takes to sustain a football career for a long time. So without getting carried away, he is quick to thank his teammates for his glorious night.

“I want to dedicate the hat-trick to the team. Without them it's not possible. They have always had my back since the beginning of the season,” he said.

“Given the situation we are in, the bubble and everything, it's tough for everyone. But everyone in the team is very supportive. We push each other everyday so it makes it easier,” he added.

The next step for Nassiri would now be to perform with the expectations that come with a Kolkata derby hat-trick. All the eyes will be on him everytime he takes a touch or everytime he gets close to the goal.

The challenge for the youngsters would be to keep this going. But his calm demeanour on and off the pitch suggests that he is not the one to get carried away. The way he speaks shows his focus on the task at hand and he’s probably already back to the grind preparing for the next match.

Very few have had a start to their careers quite like Nassiri, he now must make sure he goes on and ends it on a similar note.

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