SRINAGAR: Jammu and Kashmir Forest XI, one of the premier soccer clubs of the state, have swooped on some of the high profile names-both players and coaching staff- in their bid to put best foot forward for the upcoming All India Invitational Football Cup, beginning May 25.
With Indian domestic calendar having off-season, Forest XI have made most of it, pocketing Ishfaq Ahmad and Mehrajuddin Wadoo-easily the two most talented players in the state with both having decade long experience of plying their major Indian clubs- to represent them in the tournament which has bolstered the side both in terms of star power and match winning abilities.
The swoop hasn’t been limited to big players only, Forest XI support staff has strengthened its think tank with inclusion of ace coach Sajid Dar as consultant to prepare the side for the tourney. Sajid will work with head coach Showkat Masoodi to have the team up for the challenge that will see three J&K sides-Forest XI, JK Police XI and JK Bank- and three from the outside state-ONGC, Mizoram and Air India-to make it six-team tourney that will stretch for two weeks, with Jammu and Kashmir Football Association having made a successful bid for hosting rights.
Ishfaq and Wadoo’s addition to the squad means Forest XI can boast off pace in the midfield and a reliable defender to go with some exciting young talent in the town.
Wadoo, the former East Bengal and Mohun Bagan defender, is yet to join the squad, but Ishfaq has started practising with the players to give a calming influence to the setup.
Ishfaq is making sure he contributes in more than one way to the team.
“It is a great opportunity to give something back to Kashmir football. We have got an off season, so it didn’t need second invitation for me to part of the Forest side for this tournament. I want to pass on to young players here what I have learnt over the years playing for top years,” Ishfaq told Kashmir Reader on the sidelines of a practice session at Polo Ground, overseen by Masoodi and Dar.
Forest XI is set to field all Kashmir team in the tourney. For Zameer Ahmad Thakur, in-charge Forest XI club and president JKFA, the duos presence would be a great help for the young players.
“It is a great gesture from both of them. It will certainly help young players and for high profile tourney like All India Invitational Football Cup you need big players to draw fans’ attention,” Thakur said.
The JKFA president feels Forest XI has a great mixture of experience and youth to stake claim for the title. “I think we have the arsenal to beat best in the business. If players play to their potential, we could win the tournament,” he said.
For Masoodi, working with the star players is a learning experience for him as well. “This is great to work with these players. Their work ethics and urge to remain fit is evident during training and it rubs on the young players,” said Masoodi, whose reputation as coach is going upwards by the day.
He reckons All India Invitational Football Cup is an ideal prelude to the upcoming domestic soccer season where Forest XI has already been dubbed as title favourites.
The tourney will be played at Bakhshi Stadium with Forest XI fixtured to take on Air India in the curtain raiser encounter.
Dar’s brief stint with Forest XI is another booster for Masoodi and his wards, who are eager to make most of the opportunity.
WHEN 7-year old turned up to watch Ishfaq practice
Manzar Altaf, a seven year old kid, turned up at Polo Ground very early in the morning alongwith his father to watch his favourite state soccer player Ishfaq Ahmad practice.
“I came here to watch Ishfaq. He is my favourite player. I really like him. I asked him for an autograph as well,” said ever smiling Altaf as he posed with Ishfaq for photograph.