Mohammad Nawaz eyes Hero ISL Golden Glove and national team breakthrough

Mohammad Nawaz has become an integral part of FC Goa ever since he made his debut for the club in Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2018-19. The talented Indian goalkeeper appeared 20 times in goal for Goa last season, making 42 saves and keeping five clean sheets as the Gaurs topped the league phase to clinch the League Winners Shield and become the first club from India to qualify for the group stage of the AFC Champions League.

Still only 20 years of age, Nawaz seems to have a bright future ahead and revealed his immediate goals. “Next season, my goal is to win the ISL Golden Glove. But more importantly, I will continue working hard to finally break into the senior national team this year itself,” he asserted in an interview.

However, his initiation to the Hero ISL was far from ideal. While making his league debut for Goa against NorthEast United FC in October 2018, a lapse by Nawaz led to a goal for the Highlanders. “Honestly, I never considered what happened in Guwahati as a mistake. On the pitch itself, I had decided that I would focus on the next minute and learn from that experience,” Nawaz recalled.

Mentally strong, Nawaz has dealt with his share of setbacks in his nascent career so far. “When I was in the AIFF Elite Academy, I had one goal — to make the U-17 World Cup squad, but I wasn’t selected in the end. But I didn’t let that setback affect me, as I signed for FC Goa in January 2018,” he said.

A few good displays for the Gaurs in the Goa Pro League in early 2018 helped him pave his way into the starting line-up. “Initially, I kept my head down, and then, after six months, the head coach (Sergio Lobera) came up to me and had a talk with me. I was surprised that he picked me for my debut, as there were two senior goalkeepers — (Laxmikant Kattimani) Katti-bhai and [Lalthuammawia] Ralte-bhai — but he believed in me,” the 20-year-old said.

Key to him becoming a first-choice goalkeeper for Goa was his passing ability, which was perfect for the Gaurs’ possession-based game. Nawaz, who looks up to the likes of Bayern Munich custodian Manuel Neuer and Manchester City’s shot-stopper Ederson, believes that passing is an ‘essential trait’ for all glovemen in modern football to have.

“I believe passing is a very essential trait for a goalkeeper. At FC Goa, most of the attacks start from the back and since I have experience playing as an outfield player, choosing the right pass comes easily to me. Sometimes, it’s very scary, but a good sweeper-keeper should always be able to deal with tension,” Nawaz opined.

The fact that he didn’t start his football journey as a goalkeeper has undoubtedly contributed to his confidence and ability with the ball at his feet. “After watching my cousin, Mohammed Yasir (who plays for Hyderabad FC), in training back in my childhood, I got into the sport. I used to play as a forward in the beginning, but when I was around eight years old, things changed. I played as a goalkeeper for my local club, YOSC (Youth Organisation Social Club), in one tournament as they didn’t have one,” Nawaz recollected.

He continued, “Then, in 2010, I went for a district trial. Since there were only three goalkeepers in contention, my uncle told me to apply as a goalkeeper. I did just that, because in the end, I just wanted to have fun playing the game. From there, I was selected for Manipur and played in Kolkata in 2012. Then I got selected for the national team at the U-13 level and I was recruited by the AIFF Elite Academy in 2013.”

He will be plying his trade under FC Goa’s new head coach Juan Ferrando in the new Hero ISL season and you can rest assured that Nawaz will be eager to impress the Spaniard as he looks to win the confidence of the new man at the helm for the Gaurs.

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