Up, Close and Personal with Ashutosh "The Beard" Mehta

Arijit Mukherjee  |  Tuff-Questions  |  1 Year Ago

Ashutosh Mehta has been a bed-rock and the most trusted soldier of Khalid Jamil’s Army at Mumbai and he continues to play that role with Aizawl with aplomb. The man who is fondly known as ‘The Beard’ by his legions of fans in Mumbai and now here at Mizoram as well, I personally would say he is the ‘Hulk’ of Indian Football with his perfectly chiselled body and dashing looks, that can put many professional male models to shame. This 26 year old utility footballer born in Surat is creating quite a ripple with his never back down attitude on the field and his drooling good looks off it. He is also revolutionising that a Gujarati can be very good at football and not everyone need to be a businessman or a cricketer!! 


Breaking quite a huge glass, Eh!!

One day after their monumental match, Jersey got up close and personal with the genial and well-read Gujarati kid from Mumbai.


Excerpts from the Interview:



Jersey: Hi Ashutosh, firstly congratulations on a wonderful victory, right on the verge of a historic triumph?

Ashutosh: Thanks a lot, really appreciated, but we are still not league champions, yes, it was a memorable victory and a crucial match against the heavyweights Mohun Bagan but I will reserve the celebration after the match against Shillong.



Jersey: Ashu, let’s talk about your growing up days and tell us how you turned out to be a footballer from the Cricket Capital of India?

Ashu: As you know I am a Gujarati and a Gujju playing football professionally is unheard of until now, I started football as a kid just like others for the fun of it and a hobby, I was more into athletics when I was a kid and then football happened, I got to play in the Under-15 Mumbai FC team and that is how it all started. Now I am just proud to be the first Gujarati to play in the I-League and ISL, have got full support from my community and family all through.



Jersey: Your parents must be proud?

Ashu: Yes they are, initially when I started they supported me then as well basically I was given the freedom by my parents and relatives to chart my own path in life and I am just happy and grateful that I have fulfilled their belief in me. Special mention for my mother who has believed in me from the very first and worked extremely hard to make me who I am today.



Jersey: Tell us something about Khalid Jamil the person and the coach as you have known him for years?

Ashu: He has been a friend, philosopher and guide all through my professional life and is a man-manager par excellence; he knows how to get the best out of each of his players in the best possible way. Unlike popular belief, he is the gem of a person and a perfect team man who always thinks about his team before individuals. When he asked me and Jayesh to join him in Aizawl, we did not think twice, we just packed our bags and followed him. 



Jersey: There is a belief that Khalid Jamil is an extremely hard task master, defensive minded in his tactics and an uptight character?

Ashu: Not at all, as I said he is completely misunderstood. He is an amicable person, just that he’s passionate about his job and works hard on it.

I do not agree at all that he is defensive in his approach he is actually a coach he urges his players to always attack and press the opposition, I have been shouted at many times during the match if I stay back and do not overlap or press or attack in the opposition half. He is just a misunderstood man. He has strong beliefs in his players and behaves like an elder brother and friend to us and that reflects on his team.



Jersey: When you initially arrived at Aizawl was it difficult to adjust as you have spent your entire playing career in Mumbai?

Ashu: I won’t lie, it was difficult initially for both me and Jayesh, but the love and passion the people of Aizawl and Mizoram have for football and us made us feel at home and we were determined to repay their faith in all possible ways.



Jersey: What are your take on the foreigners?

Ashu: All the foreigners have been excellent until now and have been an integral part of the team. Mahmoud Al Amna with his vast experience and knowledge have been our engine room in midfield but the shift put in day in and day out by Kingsley, Jayran and Kamo has been exemplary, they have easily blended with the team and performed in sync with the team.



Jersey: What do you feel of Aizawl and Mizoram as the latest footballing Hot-Bed?

Ashu: You won’t believe the passion and talent this small state and town possesses. It’s brimming with footballing talent, each and every one of the local boys have been exemplary for us, Brendon, Zoyeta, everyone. Zoyeta though is experienced of being trained at the MohunBagan Academy, and then he has played for Lajong and Pune FC before joining us. You can see apart from Churchill maybe every I League clubs have a Mizo plying their trade for them that speaks a lot about the huge talent base Mizoram football has and Aizawl Fc is just an extension of that. I am sure many of these lads will represent the country in the senior level very soon.



Jersey: Tell us something about the camaraderie you share with Jayesh?

Ashu: That is a long story!! I did not know him before but Jayesh was giving trial for Mahindra under 15 and Khalid asked me to check him out and that is how we first met and then for the last few years by coincidence we have played together in Mumbai FC and now Aizawl. You know in our guest house here in Aizawl we have individual rooms for each of our players but me and Jayesh still share a room. By the way, He has been absolutely brilliant for us through-out the season and after Mahmoud joined us he is playing a much advanced role. He is a wonderful footballer who can play anywhere you want him to play. He is a natural winger but he is ready to play anywhere for the cause of the team.

Moreover he coming with me to Aizawl made it easier for both of us to adjust to a completely different surrounding than we had back in Mumbai.



Jersey: In ISL, you have shared the dressing room with Diego Forlan; tell us something about the experience?

Ashu: It has been an honour to share the dressing room with Trezeguet (in FC City Pune), Anelka (Mumbai City FC) and Forlan. It has been a real learning experience and has really improved me as a footballer. Especially I was close to Forlan and though the man is a legend and achieved everything on the football pitch he is unbelievably down to earth and I am not just saying that it is a reality. His discipline and focus during practise even at this age was a lesson for all of us, during every practise session he use to provide us with tips and strategies to improve our game and he always had a smiling face and easily approachable.



Jersey: When we are on ISL, You have been sharing dressing room with Sony, tell us something about him?

Ashu: As I have said before he is the most difficult opponent I have faced, he is extremely dangerous on the field and by far the best foreigner on Indian soil at the moment and I do not want to demean anyone he is just class apart and I have had the good fortune of sharing room with him in ISL and he is a gem of a person very down to earth, focussed and hugely lethal and talented. 

By the way, knowing him in and out helped me in marking him in yesterday’s match for sure!!



Jersey: Every Indian footballer worth his dime wants to play at least once in Kolkata. Did you ever have any such plans?

Ashu: Oh yes, rather I nearly signed for MohunBagan a couple of season back but for some contract issues it fell through at the last moment and I re-signed for Mumbai FC. Obviously if given a chance I would certainly like to play in Kolkata for the Big Two someday but right now I am all Aizawl and am a part of the Red Army.



Jersey: As you know yesterday your boyhood Mumbai FC got relegated under extremely unfortunate situation, any thoughts on that?

Ashu: I feel really bad for that, I have spent some great time at the club and was saddened by their relegation but that’s football. Especially I feel bad for the Yellow Brigade who was just awesome for Mumbai FC through thick and thin they were always there no matter what. They are one of the most passionate fans I have come across and I am sure they will be there for Mumbai whatever level they play in.

Let me add I would be the happiest if Mumbai FC comes right back into the I League next year as it is there where I got everything.



Jersey: Lets now talk about your Beard a talking point indeed about Ashutosh Mehta?

Ashu: (Laughs) When I was with Mumbai I just decided to grow the beard and the Yellow Brigade loved it and gave me the nickname of ‘The Beard’ and it suddenly became a craze and then I took it seriously and maintain my beard with utmost care, as my fans showed their love through that nick-name I decided to keep it to show respect to them and it is a tribute to their love and affection for me and I would like to have the beard just for the fans. It’s for all the Indian Football fans, specially the Yellow Brigade and the Red Army.



Jersey: You dabbled in modelling as well when you were injured a couple of years back, what is the story behind it?

Ashu: Again it just happened, I never made any conscious move for it, suddenly I got some calls from Fashion Designers and Casting Directors back in Mumbai and did it as a part time thing, but my main focus will be football no matter what and for me I got this opportunity because of football so it will be primary objective no matter what!!

You know I asked Sunil Bhai(Indian captain Sunil Chettri) about all these before I took up the offer he also said the same thing, do it when you have time but never neglect your football as that is what has got you here you are, so I have stuck by that principle.



Jersey: One tough question, foreign coaches or Indian coaches?

Ashu: As a player I should not be comparing or choosing, the management of every club decided that, as a player for me every coach makes you a better player, I have worked with foreign coaches in ISL but in I league I have only worked under Indian coaches and I think you learn from both, just that if the coach understands a footballer and gets the best of an individual he is great.



Jersey: Tell us something about Albino?

Ashu: Oh, he has been fantastic as the last man of defence for us, he is just 23, but he has a matured head on his young shoulders. I played with him in Mumbai City in ISL and he came across as a sound young man so when Khalid asked me about him I talked to him and persuaded him to come here at the last moment he was about to sign for some other club at that time. 



Jersey: Now that you are literally champions and will be playing the AFC competitions next year, any particular plans?

Ashu: I would like to interrupt we are still not champions, this is football and we are professionals we know that it does not end until the fat lady sings, take for instance the Barcelona-PSG match. 

We are not thinking of Federation Cup or the AFC at the moment we did win a crucial match against our main rivals for the title yesterday but keep in mind we have very tough match against Lajong coming up next and MohunBagan will play Chennai City at home, the Mariners are very strong at home, mind it. So the Title race is far from over and we would like to make sure we win the match and then celebrate and not jump the gun.

To be frank the city, the club and the team deserves but the man who deserves the title the most is Khalid Jamil, he has been the main reason that we are here, he was the only one who believed in us and instilled the belief even we can do it. So we have to win it for the manager, unfortunately me and Alfred Jaryan will not be able to play a part on the field as we are both suspended. But we will be with the team in spirit.



Jersey: After your win yesterday some rumours are going around in the footballing circle you are already champions and Lajong will not put up a strong fight?

Ashu: That is so wrong it is the North-east Derby and both Lajong and Aizawl will give their all in that match no way there can be any spaces given. Lajong is a very tough team at home and would like to avenge the lose they suffered to us here earlier in the league. No way can we take the match lightly at all and we will go all out to win that match and clinch the title in style. We are extremely focussed on the job at hand and from the first we have taken one match at a time.



Jersey: Lastly, do you now aspire to be selected for the Indian national team now?

Ashu: See, as a player we can only perform rest depends on the manager and coaches and their tactics and strategies so we will keep on performing as not only me the whole Aizawl Fc team wants to be a part of the National set-up but we would prefer to keep on the good work and keep on performing.



Jersey: Any messages for the passionate ‘Red Army’?

Ashu: What can I say there are no words or adjectives that can describe the contribution of the passionate fans here; they have been unparalleled and unrivalled in their love for us, no matter what!!

As you must have seen yesterday in that rain and mist they were at their full voice through-out the match and the love they have showered on us will always be etched in my memory. They have actually played more than 12th man for us. They have been simply awesome and superlative. Arijit, the passion they have for the team and football is something you will believe when you are here and feel it for yourself. It has been simply indescribable.



Jersey: It has been such a pleasure talking to you and we are thankful for the time spent with Jersey and being so honest in your answers. Team Jersey wishes you all the luck to you and the rest of the team on the fairy-tale journey you had so far and on your final match, may the best team wins and let us add we think you have achieved something more than what Leicester City had achieved in Premier League last year.

Ashu: Thanks a ton I will pass on the wishes to all the team mates it will work as an extra fillip for us before the Lajong match and it was pleasure too. Hope to make all our supporters and the people of Aizawl, Mizoram and Khalid Jamil proud of us.




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