Akhil Rawat
AIFF Media Team

NEW DELHI: Only a year back, goalkeeper Padam Chettri was guarding the citadel of a club, who failed to save themselves from relegation. His then club, Mumbai Kenkre FC, managed only three wins and conceded 40 goals from 22 matches in the 2022-23 I-League season, and lost the rights to play the I-League this season.

Fast forward one year, the 26-year-old is now easily one of the most important members of the I-League champions Mohammedan Sporting, and has even been awarded the Best Goalkeeper of the Season. The boys from Shillong, who only started his senior career in football just four years back, however, learned valuable lessons when his side were down and out.

“I spent two seasons at Kenkre, and the expectations were completely different in that kind of scenario. We struggled to save our existence in the I-League for two seasons,” said Chettri. “It helped me grow as a person and as a player too. I had belief in my own abilities when I joined Mohammedan Sporting. I did not think about the past and worked every day to improve myself.”

From conceding 27 goals in 15 appearances with just one clean sheet, Padam Chettri has gone on to be a part of one of the most stable back-lines in the 2023-24 I-League season, conceding only 18 goals in 22 appearances, with eight clean sheets to his name.

The Best Goalkeeper of the season said, “I am very happy that my efforts have finally been recognised. We have all worked hard this season and won the league, which was the most important thing. But the individual honour is also special. I am thankful to my teammates and coaches.”

The 26-year-old remained humble, attributing the stellar performances to the defenders who operated in front of him.

“I made some good saves, which is again my duty, but I had some fine defenders in front of me too. It was a team effort. I always wanted to improve and would like to thank our goalkeeping coach (Lalit Thapa) too, for his work with me,” said Chettri.

For Chettri, who had started his career at Rangdajied United FC in Shillong, before moving to Ryntih S&C, and eventually to Mumbai Kenkre FC, it was a unique experience to play for a club, which has a rich history of 133 years.

“It’s not easy to live up to the expectations of our fans, but it’s all about the mentality. It is added pressure, but if you take it the right way, it can help you stay focussed and work harder,” said Chettri. “We must understand their emotions. They are our 12th man on the pitch. We try our best, but sometimes the results are not what we expect. As a player, one needs to understand the emotions of the fans in such cases and work according to that.

“I don’t know how many expected us to win, but we believed in ourselves from the start,” said Chettri.