What just happened in the finals is beyond words. This is footballing god’s own script which we witnessed. Yes, Hyderabad FC are the champions. It’s beautiful how the team which finished dead last just two years back are the ones lifting the Hero ISL trophy. But something even more attractive is how a Goan slang name, followed by a Fatorda 2015 nightmare for all these years, made a heroic comeback throughout the 140 minutes and became the hero of the night!
Yes, we are talking about Laxmikant Kattimani!
“Gentlemen, a short view back to the past”
The date was December 20, 2015. It was a night at a jam-packed Fatorda, which would witness only the second champion of the ISL. The clash was between Marco Materazzi’s Chennaiyin FC and Zico’s FC Goa. The goal-scoring accounts opened when Chennaiyin’s Bruno Pelissari tapped in his saved penalty in the 54th minute. Kattimani saved that to his left but couldn’t help the rebound. He saved another penalty (Mendoza) in the 62nd minute. The penalty was awarded for his own horrific tackle on Stiven Mendoza.
But did Kattimani know that it’s the same Columbian pocket-dynamite who will tag his entire career in the next 30 minutes? In the 90th minute, a lobbed ball reached his 5-yard box. With a probable miscommunication and Mendoza’s physical presence, Kattimani bounced it into his own net. Scores level, 2-2. Precisely 85 seconds later, he lost his balance and let in a goal from Mendoza, which sent ruptures round the stands of Fatorda.
Despite saving two penalties earlier, these two instances remained reminiscent of the then 26-year old Goan keeper. Even today, everyone talks about those howlers. But no one tells you that he also saved two penalties in that game – despite one of them being tapped in as a rebound. But that’s what happens. The scoreline and mistakes are the only things that are remembered.
Fast forward exactly 75 months; on March 20, 2022, he saves three penalties in the shootout to become Hero of the Finale.
Laxmikanth Kattimani – a man who had to live with the ghost of 2015, who heard the echoes of his past earlier today, finally gets to be the hero.— Sandeep Menon (@SandynoneM) March 20, 2022
He gets his moment in the sun.
Richly deserved. #ISL
However, it’s not like he only showed up in the final. He had few solid outings throughout the season. He had a stellar night in the second leg at Fatorda too. Talking statistically, he had the best Save/xSave in the league amongst the keepers with more than five appearances. He ended the season with the most number of saves as well (61). The run so far was enough to anticipate a Kattimani Redemption szn.
The start of the much anticipated Fatorda leg wasn’t satisfactory at all. The first significant event was the Rahul KP shot which he let in. The first goal of the game came in the 68th minute. With just 2 minutes of regulation time left, Sahil Tavora sent shock waves across the Fatorda with his well-placed right-footed volley. The game went into the extra time and subsequently into the penalties. It was now all up to Laxmikant Kattimani to emerge as the Fatorda Hero and complete his fairytale comeback story.
Marko Leskovic stepped up first. Kattimani saved his penalty to the right. He saved Nishu Kumar’s penalty in a very similar fashion. Ayush Adhikari sent him the wrong way, but he responded that Jeakson shot the right way. He dived to his left to shatter the hopes of millions of Blasters fans. The rest was assured by Halicharan Narzary, who made no mistake in sealing it for the Nizams.
The comeback story dates way back. Hyderabad FC roped in Laxmikant Kattimani as the #2 for Kamaljit Singh. He only played six games throughout the season. In the 2020-21 season, Subrata Paul was supposed to be the club’s first-choice keeper. However, he made a January move to SC East Bengal, which ultimately opened the slot for Kattimani. The team was already showing a lot of promise to its youngsters. Hence, it was a bit odd to see someone like him be an integral part of the setup. The coaches kept faith in him and continued with him as Hyderabad’s #1.
Laxmikant may not be young, but he consumed the same of what the youngsters of his club consumed. We have witnessed rocketing rise of players like Liston Colaco, Akash Mishra, Ashish Rai, Hitesh Sharma, Md. Yasir and Sana Singh over the last two seasons.
On that December night, he somewhat put his team away from their first-ever ISL title. To complete the redemption cycle, he made his current team lift their first-ever ISL title.
Moral of the story? You can’t take one moral from it. The report showed how putting faith is essential, how the past doesn’t necessarily define the future, why patience is the key, how there always is a second chance and most importantly, how to grab the second chance. Remember, kids, God is great!