ATKMB’s Lara Sharma: Getting national team call-up best moment of life

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IFTWC Media caught up with the young budding keeper who is currently upscaling new heights in his career.

Q: A lot of budding footballers struggle to make it to the professional leagues. Say us about your journey to your first professional match.

Lara: A debut is always an important part of any footballer’s career. Mine was a memorable one. I played my debut for Tata Football Academy (TFA) U-18 against Mohun Bagan and we defeated such a reputed side at their own ground in Kolkata.

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Q: As a young footballer, what fuelled you to move ahead in your career and what all challenges did you face in the process?

Lara: Many players who have previously represented the country and the Indian clubs have lived around us. Seeing them play inspired me to opt for football as career. As a young kid, I had little knowledge about clubs and academies so I had to face challenges to come aboard in the sport, until I got selected in TFA in 2015.

Q: Who was the most important person in your career when helped you reach where you are today?

Lara: My father was the most important person behind my career. He used to take me to local football academy as early as 4 am in the morning. He encouraged me and made me believe that I can become a great player.

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Q: You started your career with Tata Football academy. So, how have they helped you to develop your game and how do you think they are doing a fantastic job to produce some of the best players in the country?

Lara: The facilities at the TFA is very good. When I joined the academy, the world class facilities available here helped me to work and improve my basics. Now, almost every Indian Super League (ISL) club has 2-3 players from TFA, which shows how much quality the academy has.

Q: What is the story behind signing for a top club like ATKMB? How and when were you approached for a contract?

Lara: I got the offer from ATKMB when I was at the Indian Arrows. The offer seemed perfect to me as I knew I would not only get to train with the Senior players but will also be able to get enough of game time in Calcutta League and second division I-league.

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Q: You were a part of the India U18 side in the SAFF U18 Championship 2017, so you know how it feels to wear that jersey and the atmosphere in there. What will be your message to the current U-16 India squad who will be playing the AFC U-16 Championship this year?

Lara: I always dreamt of representing the nation and when I got the call from the national team to join the camp for South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) U-18 Championship, I was ecstatic. It felt so good to don the national jersey. People respect you if you represent the nation in a sport. My message to the Indian players out there is to go out and give their cent percent in the AFC U-16 Championship without any fear and just enjoy the game. The results will eventually show up

Q: How was your experience with the Indian Arrows and how did it help u in your journey so far??

Lara: Playing at the Arrows was a big thing for me. It was only from this club, that people started to know me and my image as a footballer elevated.

Q: How did you feel after winning your first ever major title in the form of the ISL Trophy? What was the atmosphere in the dressing room like after the win?

Lara: It was always a dream for me to win a major trophy with a club and with ATKMB this dream of mine came true. Everyone really worked hard to won this trophy. Unfortunately, when the trophy was lifted I was playing in the second division league and so couldn’t be part of the winning moment. Yet, nonetheless I was really very happy to be a part of the Champion side.

Q: While playing amongst senior players, have you ever felt you were at a disadvantage due to your age? If yes, then in what ways?

Lara: No, I never felt I was junior at the club. All the senior players treated me like their brother, and taught me many things.

Q: How were the playing styles at both the ATKMB and Indian Arrows? What’s the difference in their approaches?

Lara: There is quite a difference in the playing styles. At Indian Arrows, all the players were young and used to run a lot. We played a lot of pressing football with counterattack. On the other hand, at ATKMB, the players were experienced and knew how to adapt to different situations, thus we played possession football, sometimes counterattacking game, through wings. And we played with a lot of buildup, no long ball.

Q: Tell us about some fun incidences which took place while you were playing for Indian Arrows and ATK.

Lara: At Arrows, our goalkeeping coach Yusuf Ansari was a fun person to be around. Outside training ground, he used to joke a lot and used to enjoy my jokes too. I also had quite a few friends at ATKMB, who really were fun people to keep in company with.

Q: So you’ve also played in some local league too probably, held in your hometown, so how do you think they are playing a vital role in giving chances to young and unknown quality players.

Q: What are you’re expectations for the next season, and how are looking forward to the it?

Lara: I want to just keep playing more and more. I want to gain more experience.

Q: How were you feeling when ATKMB contacted you for a signing? And did you have second thoughts before signing for them?

Lara: When I came to know about ATKMB’s offer, I was delighted. At that time, I already had two more offers, but I considered this one to be the best considering the game time I would get along with the exposure with Senior team.

Q: What has been your best footballing moment so far?

Lara: Getting the national team call up while playing for TFA. It was the biggest dream come true. I always wanted to represent the country at any age group level.

Q: As a footballer, what do you do to cool yourself down before and after a match?

As a goalkeeper, I try to always keep cool and calm during the match so that I can make right calls to my teammates. It will be difficult for the players to keep the formation without a correct call from me. So, I try to keep myself cool during the game.

Q: What will be your goal for the next season and how do you think you can improve yourself, looking at your past performances.

Lara: I aim to get more time on the field next season, irrespective of where I would end up Playing, I want to get more minutes on the field.

Q: Apart from Goalkeeping which position do you fancy playing.

Lara: I like playing as a defender. During training sessions at ATKMB, when we played without goalposts and worked on set pieces and build up, I played as a defender. I have good knowledge of defensive approach and runs and as a keeper, I can guide the defenders very well.

Q: How was your journey with the ATK Reserves and how do you feel about it.

Lara: I have learnt a lot playing for the reserves. I got a lot of game time in Kolkata league and the second division and I managed to get a lot of cleansheets. Playing in tough conditions like muddy grounds has given me a lot of experience and improved me qs a player

Q: There’s currently a lot of competition in the Goalkeeping position in India, with so many talented goalkeepers including young ones like you. So do you think it is something positive Or stressful? How do you look forward to it.

Lara: I get to learn a lot from the senior keepers in the country. They are an inspiration to me. I always try to observe how they play and try to learn from them. There are many fine keepers amongst the senior ranks in the country right now. As for keepers of my age, a lot of professional goalkeepers are coming up and this gives us a competitive environment to push ourselves forward and become better. So, it has a positive impact on me and there’s nothing stressful about it.

Q: As a Goalkeeper what has been your primary aspect Or mantra towards moving forward and that makes you different from others? (If any)

Lara: No mantras. Only hardwork. I have come this far only on the basis of my hardwork and will continue working hard in the future.

Q: Being from Bengal I’m sure you’ve heard alot about Mohun Bagan, and now that they’ve merged with ATK how does it feel to be a part of them?

Lara: Definitely, hailing from Bengal, I always knew how much popular Mohun Bagan is in the state. Also inspite of newly coming into existence,ATK has built a lot of fan support in the state too. Now, with the merger, fans of both the teams will throng the stadium and support the club in unison. It is a very positive move.

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