"There is no pressure on you, everybody likes you here and even I like you. Just go out there and enjoy your game, nobody is going to tell you anything."
THESE WERE THE WORDS from his coach, and after this every time he took the field he obyed those words. Even when he is poised to play his 100th league match he is going to do the same.
With just 11 days before he rings in his 25th birthday, Mumbai FC defender, Ashutosh Mehta, is thrilled to play his 100th overall league appearance (I-League and ISL included) against Mohun Bagan on Wednesday, the team he made his senior debut against.
"It's my sixth season with Mumbai FC, a club that has been my home and family over the years. As I am about to play my 100th league match, I'm overwhelmed and eagerly waiting to get out there and perform for the fans and the club that has been part of my life since my teenage years," an elated Mehta told TFG.
He was included in the Mumbai team against Dempo, which was his first match. However, nervousness got the better of him and his debut match was kept on hold.
"At that time, Dempo was the best team in I-League and I was only 18. To be honest, it was a scary moment as I had to face the likes of Climax Lawrence and Ranti Martins who were the best at that time. Coach came up to me and said 'you have to play'; I looked terrified and he told me it was okay and decided not to field me then".
Goals for a defender are very rare because their major job is to 'defend the goal' but he has managed to hit the net five times. The best among them was the one that came against East Bengal.
"We were fighting relegation in the 2013-2014 season and going into the match against one of the best teams in which we needed to win; a draw was also enough, but I scored a goal in the 87th minute and won the match for the team so that was a very special goal for me and I will cherish it all my life."
He not only built a strong relation with the club and the coach, but also with his fellow-teammates and one such player is Jayesh Rane. He talks very highly about Rane and takes proud in his achievements and playing alongside him.
"Jayesh is a supremely talented player and we have grown up together here. He is young and has a long way to go."
On sharing special moments with Jayesh, he said:
"All the games I've played with him are really special, we enjoy playing together, we enjoy playing on the same plank. In fact at times we tell the coach that let us play together at the same plank because it will be better for us and we'll do good. It's been five years now playing with, it feels really good."
Known for his famous 'beard', the fans have acknowledged it with "Respect the beard'', and Ashutosh loves it. With a huge smile on his face he says:
"I really like what the fans have done for me; they have supported me through all the times and have always been there which is important and I enjoy playing in front of them and I cherish moments like these."
Just like the ciyt's fans have remained true to their icon, so has Mehta, who even in the Indian Super League (ISL) played for Mumbai, though in the inaugural season he was on loan with Pune City FC. He shares his experience of playing in the ISL:
"ISL experience was really good for me as playing with and against players like Nicolas Anelka, Trezeguet, Sunil Chhetri, Del Piero, was an honour for me and it was great to share the same dressing room with them."
A fan of Cristiano Ronaldo's dedication and hard-work, Mehta wants to emulate the same in his life and he has been doing that for which he has been rewarded well by his team and the fans. He immensely loves and respects his fans. Asked whether the size of his team's home ground (Cooperage) matters as it is small when compared with the other team's grounds, he replies:
"The size of a ground does not really matter, it is the fans. When they come in huge numbers, it lifts the team's confidence and gives them a reason to play and perform well. There is no advantage and disadvantage when it comes to the size of the ground as both the teams are playing on the same field, ultimately what matters are your supporters."
What does Ashutosh Mehta want to achieve in the future?
"Everybody keeps telling me that you have been playing for a very long time now and have also been consistent in your performance, but when will you play for the national team. To which I don't have an answer. All I can do is give my best every time I am given an opportunity to play the game and the rest is left to the authorities. This is the only factor that is missing, playing for the national team".
As he awaits the great occasion of playing the 100th league match against Mohun Bagan, he is also aware of the opponents' strength.
"They have good players in Jeje and Katsumi and so on, but in football, given a day the team that excels in all the departments will emerge as the winner. Even they'll have a strategy to face and stop the likes of the stalwarts that we have but the end result is churned out on the basis of what happens in that 90 minutes."
While playing for Mumbai City FC in ISL, he also shared the dressing room with Sony Norde, who plays for Bagan in the I-League. Talking about the Haitian, Mehta said:
"Norde is a very good player, he is extremely talented and hard-working. Since I've played with him now I know all his moves and his game very well (laughs), it will be great when I take the field against him."
Ask him if Mumbai should be considered as the title contenders this season, he is positive.
"Off course, why not! I think this season we have the best squad in the past six years and we have the potential to go ahead and win the league. After beating Bengaluru FC, I guess all the teams must be cautious playing against us."
Since he is loved so much by the fans, he also has a special message to them:
"Do come and show your support as you have been doing. It is big game for me and for the team. It gives me great pleasure to wear the yellow and blue outfit on this milestone and when it will be amongst all the fans, makes it even more special."
The man with the 'beard' is deeply in love with the game and owes everything to it and describes the sport with this line:
"Football for me is happiness and happiness is the highest level of success."
To all the fans out there: come and show respect for and support the "beard" and his team as he gets ready to achieve a memorable milestone.