The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ashim, little striker with a wise head

Calcutta: Very few Indian footballers have had such a rousing start to their international careers. The gifted Ashim Biswas belongs to that elite group.

Earlier this month, he made his international debut with a bang, scoring three goals in three matches in the SAFF Cup in Dhaka. This was preceded by another three goals during the AFC under-20 meet’s final round in Doha in October last year. His debut for Tollygung Agragami in the National Football League the season before was also nothing short of sensational.

I.M. Vijayan and Bhaichung Bhutia, both of whom Ashim holds in high esteem, scored a solitary goal in their debut tournaments, spanning four matches each. Vijayan’s strike came against Lebanon in the 1991 pre-Olympic match, but his team lost, while Bhaichung’s goal helped India beat Uzbekistan in the 1995 Nehru Cup in the city.

In Dhaka, it was however a special moment for the diminutive striker when he paired up with his childhood idol I. M. Vijayan against Pakistan. And Ashim said the Keralite had been a huge inspiration in his life.

“I’ve grown seeing Vijayan play in the Maidan. Never imagined I would play with him one day. What fascinated me more was that he kept on inspiring me in Dhaka,” Ashim said, during an exclusive interview with The Telegraph on Thursday.

But is he ready to take over the mantle from Vijayan after his retirement from the national team' Pat came the reply: “I’ve just made a beginning, let it get matured first”.

“Bad refereeing cost us the semi-final against Bangladesh (in the SAFF Cup). Before the match, we were even deprived of a practice ground and had to be content with practising at a tennis court,” he reasoned behind his team’s failure to complete a hattrick of titles.

If you think the temptation of stardom is too strong to be ignored by this diminutive body — merely five feet three inches in height — be prepared to eat the humble pie.

For the 20-year old India striker has an extremely wise brain on his shoulders. Ashim proclaimed that he would not die a premature death as a footballer.

“When you make your presence felt in a big stage, there will be provocation, deviations and even short-cuts to easy money. I know many players faded out after showing early promises. But I’ve been brought up in a family where I’ve been taught to be down to earth,” Ashim said at the Tollygunge Agragami club.

One glimpse of his cautious approach to the path ahead can be gauged from the fact that he had turned down an East Bengal offer last year. “I wanted to mature more. And I realised time had not come then to respond to a call from the big club,” he later explained.

He, however, revealed a switch to either East Bengal or Mohun Bagan next year is in his plans.

Ashim, meanwhile, gave credit to current club coach Aloke Mukherjee for transforming him into a striker. “I started as an attacking midfielder. However, Amalda (former coach Amal Dutta) usually didn’t give me enough chance and used me as a substitute. Alokeda, however, had faith in my striking abilities and I was eventually made to be a striker,” he observed.

“Credit should also go to (Tollygunge Agragami secretary) Mantoo Ghosh, for he gave me a chance to represent his club at a critical phase of my life,” he added.

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