Even now when he closes his eyes, Mohammad Rafique can visualize the goal. He clearly remembers Jakub Podany’s corner, the timing of his run and the glancing header that catapulted him to instant stardom. With the match heading towards extra-time, it was this goal, the only one in the final between Atletico de Kolkata and Kerala Blasters, which brought the inaugural Indian Super League crown to Kolkata. Rafique was at the heart of the celebrations.
In days after the final his goal dominated the ‘football talk’ at home, among friends as well as at his parent club East Bengal from whom Atletico de Kolkata had taken him on loan last year. It still is, but these days it’s usually tempered with a dose of consolation. “Never mind, things will be better next time,” Rafique has been hearing ever since Atletico de Kolkata decided not to renew his contract for the 2nd edition of the ISL. Instead, they put him on the player draft where the 24-year-old midfielder from Sodepur, on the outskirts of Kolkata, went unsold.
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Initially it came as a shock. “I couldn’t believe that I was not there in this ISL despite scoring the winning goal,” Rafique says.
Three months hence that pain has dimmed a bit, owing largely to East Bengal winning their sixth successive Calcutta Football League title. It was a record which Rafique and Co. now share with East Bengal’s league-winning feat from 1970-75. And Rafique played a key role in this triumph, including a goal against Mohun Bagan and the winner against Southern Samity as East Bengal won the league unbeaten.
Ask him which team he will support in the ISL and Rafique takes his time. “Being a Bengali I will definitely support Atletico de Kolkata,” he says, after a brief pause. But he is not sure whether he will visit the Salt Lake Stadium to watch Kolkata play.