By Soumo Ghosh,
AIFF Media Team
New Delhi: It was on a chilly, sunlit Boxing Day afternoon at the Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi that the nimble figure of Nongdamba Naorem made history as Indian Arrows were taking on Shillong Lajong FC.
Around 10 minutes after he came on, Naorem received a pass from fellow substitute Abhishek Halder, and was immediately cornered by two defenders. A quick shuffle of the feet and he was past them in a flash to enter the box, feinted another opponent before a quick movement took the ball away from another defender. He took out a fifth defender with a nimble turn and slammed the ball past the keeper into the top corner, putting the Arrows 2-0 ahead in the 86th minute.
It has been two years since he scored that wonder-goal, but the moment has forever been etched into the annals of Hero I-League history.
“That goal was life-changing for me,” a smiling Naorem said to i-league.org. “Many people, nowadays, know me for that goal. To some extent, I am where I am, because of that goal.”
A MORE EXPERIENCED CUSTOMER
After his initial season at the Arrows, Naorem went on to sign for Kerala Blasters in the winter Transfer Window of the 2018-19 season. However, it is the current campaign that has really seen the 20-year-old come to the limelight after he signed for Mohun Bagan, where he has become an integral part of the starting XI in a sublime Mariners’ side.
“I am about to complete my second season in the Hero I-League, and I feel that the first season at Arrows really helped me become a mature player,” he quipped. “It has given me the experience of the pace and the rigours of the League which is why I am being able to gel with some top players at Mohun Bagan.”
Naorem has impressed one and all with his performances, having the distinction of being on the top of the list of the Indian players with the most number of assists (5) to their name, apart from scoring two goals himself from the left-wing. The youngster praised Mohun Bagan head coach Kibu Vicuna for his performances this season.
“Coach has really given me a lot of confidence this season. I have learnt a lot from him,” said Naorem, “He compliments me when I do something good, but he also points out my mistakes for me to work on them.”
Being the nimble-footed winger that he is, Naorem believes that the style of football that the Green and Maroons have been playing this season has suited him quite a bit.
“We have some very experienced foreigners. Papa Babacar Diawara has played in the La Liga, and Joseba (Beitia), Fran Morante and Fran Gonzalez have also played in Spain,” he explained. “Through them, and under the guidance of Coach, we have learnt how to play the possession game, and I feel that this has really helped me amplify my performances.
“This style of football really suits me, and we are confident when we have the ball. But at the same time, we work very hard when we don’t have it,” Naorem continued.
With this style of football, the Mariners have taken the Hero I-League by storm, and are sniffing the title. However, Naorem is not thinking about the title celebrations just yet.
“We still have five matches to go, and we want to win all of them. Of course, we want to win the title, but we are not thinking about the equations too much right now.”
‘THE BEST MATCH IN INDIA’
It’s that time of the season once again – the Kolkata Derby is close at hand! And with Mohun Bagan so close to securing the championship, many are waiting in anticipation of the Boro Match.
For Naorem, however, a Derby is a Derby. “It was a great moment for me, personally, to play in the Derby back in January. That win was really special, but I cannot forget the atmosphere that evening in Kolkata,” he exclaimed. “I don’t think you can compare it with any other match. It is the best football match in India.”