NorthEast United FC defender Ashutosh Mehta happy after finally realising ‘India’ dream
Ashutosh Mehta has undoubtedly had his best Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) season in 2020-21. The defender has featured in six out of seven editions so far but none of the previous seasons can compare in terms of his achievements in the season just gone by.
Playing for NorthEast United FC, whom he joined ahead of the season from Mohun Bagan AC, Mehta featured in 18 games and played a total of 1406 minutes. Not only did he provide two assists but he also scored a goal, his first-ever in the Hero ISL.
The Highlanders reached the semi-finals on the back of a 10-game unbeaten run and Mehta at last was rewarded for his performance with a maiden call-up in the national team – after years of toil and disappointment – for the international friendlies against Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Dubai in late March, and he debuted against Oman in a 1-1 draw at the age of 30.
“Very good feeling, very, very good feeling. It's a pride to wear the national team's kit and as I said, you can start later, you can lose, you can fold, you can mess up things but you can still succeed. So, you just need to keep going and never ever give up. So, I am very happy with whatever is happening with my life and just want to thank god for the journey," Mehta told dnaindia.com.
After Gerard Nus parted ways with NorthEast United FC in January, assistant coach Khalid Jamil stepped into the breach as interim head coach and guided the Highlanders into the top-four, a second instance for them in the history of the league. Mehta has known Jamil several years now and speaks of what he has learnt from him.
"He keeps saying there is no substitute for hard work, if you work hard, you will achieve what you want. If not today, tomorrow, if not tomorrow, the day after tomorrow but in the end, you will achieve what you want if you work hard with the right mindset,” he said.
Mehta, who grew up in Mumbai, also shed light on his early journey. “Football I started playing when I was 14. I was into athletics before. Before Mumbai FC [now defunct], very few people know about this that I had gone to a trial for Mahindra. And I was cut on the first day, first day they sent me back home and after that, we played a tournament which was organised by Mumbai FC, the name of the tournament was Junior champ. And there, coach Khalid spotted me and asked me to join Mumbai FC and from there it started,” Mehta, who went on to play for FC Pune City, Mumbai City FC, Aizawl FC, ATK FC and Mohun Bagan AC, said.
Mehta also revealed which international footballer he looks up to. "Ronaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo. Because of the mindset, not because of the way he plays. His head, his mentality which is something beautiful and adorable. This is what I look up to, his mentality," he said.