Having impressed in the ongoing AFC Asian U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers, Indian national football team defender Narender Gahlot has set his sights on helping Jamshedpur FC qualify for the playoffs in Indian Super League 2021-22.
The 20-year-old centre-back is currently with the U-23 Indian national team, where he has formed a formidable central defensive partnership with Deepak Tangri. Gahlot alongside Tangri put on a commanding performance at the back to secure a 2-1 victory over Oman in their opening match of the AFC Asian U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers.
As India are still scheduled to face United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kyrgyzstan in their remaining AFC Asian U-23 Asian Cup Qualifier matches, Gahlot will join his ISL franchise only after completing his national duties in the first week of November.
While Jamshedpur extended their unwanted record of never qualifying for the ISL playoffs after finishing sixth last season, Gahlot wants to break their playoff jinx in the upcoming campaign.
“As a team, we are definitely expecting higher. We have got a very good side and have the same coach as last year. He has the players marked out who are going to fit our style of play. We have our plans sorted out and reaching the playoffs is the first target followed by winning the ISL,” the Jamshedpur FC defender told SportsAdda in an exclusive interview.
Gahlot further claimed that several injuries last season played a major role in impacting Jamshedpur’s chances of reaching the ISL semi-finals.
“I think the major reason for us not being able to get to the playoffs were the injury issues along the course of the season. But this time our signings have been done keeping that in mind. If unfortunately someone meets with an injury and is out, we have an able replacement for that very position. We definitely want to reach the playoffs this time and then fight for the title,” the 20-year-old Gahlot added.
At the age of just 18, the former Indian Arrows footballer made his senior national team debut and created history by becoming the second-youngest goal-scorer for the Blue Tigers behind Jerry Zirsanga after bagging his first international goal against Syria in the Intercontinental Cup at the EKA Arena in Ahmedabad in 2019.
📽️ @NarenderGahlot rose above everyone else and beautifully nodded in the header to put India in front! 🤩🤩— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) July 16, 2019
IND 🇮🇳 1-0 🇸🇾 SYR#IndianFootball #HeroIC 🏆 #BackTheBlue #BlueTigers #INDSYR pic.twitter.com/TTOGjN9flC
Recalling his senior national team debut, Gahlot said that he wanted to perform for his Indian national team head coach Igor Stimac, who showed immense confidence in him.
“A day before my senior team debut, I was told by coach Igor Stimac that I am going to start and he asked me not to take any pressure and he trusts me to do well and has confidence in my capabilities. I just wanted to respect his faith in me and perform well but, unfortunately, we lost the match 2-4 after being 2-0 up,” Gahlot reminisced.
“After losing the first match, I watched my mistakes and worked on that. The team also gave me the confidence to let go of the previous defeat and focus on the next match, mainly the seniors. As for the goal, it was not just mine but it was a team goal,” he added.
Gahlot also shed some light on the coaching differences between his Jamshedpur FC coach Owen Coyle and Stimac.
“Every coach has its own style and methods. While Igor Stimac focused more on moving with the ball and making it possession-based before attacking from the wing, Owen Coyle believed in attacking from the wing but in a more dominating way,” the young defender said.
Jamshedpur FC will start their ISL 2021-22 campaign against SC East Bengal at the Tilak Maidan in Goa on November 21.
Featured photo: Twitter/JamshedpurFC