The I-League season is coming closer to kick-off and we got the privilege to have a few words with Gokulam Kerala FC’s goalkeeping coach Mihir Sawant.
Mihir Sawant, who hails from Pune, overcame several career-threatening injuries in youth days playing as a goalkeeper and later moved to coaching career.
We had a few questions for him and here’s what the coach had to say about his journey till now, his aim for the future, and more.
When asked about how it all started as a child and how he made his decision to guard the goal, Sawant said, “I was a Hockey player before I began to play Football. I used to play hockey for a team called ‘Super 11’ and we also had a football team there. Along with hockey, I started to play football but not as a goalkeeper but as a striker at the age of 13. Speaking of guarding the goal, an interesting incident happened to me. Our football team took part in the ‘Santosh Iyer Memorial Tournament’. In one match I was dropped out of the squad. I was shocked at that time. As a child, I cried and urged to the coach saying at least take me up as the goalkeeper for the team. The coach accepted that and my journey started there. I played my role very well and bagged the ‘Best Goalkeeper of Tournament’. Vivek Nagul and Salim Pathan were my teachers who molded me through these years.
“I also represented Maharashtra Under-19 and Under-21 team in the same year when I was of 18 years old. Later, I played for Dempo SC Under-20 team. I also got the chance to train with the senior team of Dempo SC. Calanguta Association Club was my last club where I played for in the Goa Pro League,” he added.
Sawant underwent a major head injury while playing and had to undergo a major operation, where doctors instructed him to stay away from football. But, he refused to stay away from football and continued to play.
“In 2010, playing for ‘Sangam Young Boys’, we participated in a tournament at Aurangabad, Maharashtra. I collided with the opponent striker which was a very hard collision. The situation was so terrible that the doctor told me to take rest as much as possible and not to play football again, but ignoring the doctors, I continued playing.“
Upon being asked about the decision to take up coaching as a life career option, Sawant said, “Football has been my blood, I can’t live without it. In 2013, I completed my C-License coaching and also FIFA Youth as well as Elite Goalkeeping course. My family members have supported me very much in this decision is what I can say.“
Sawant served as goalkeeping coach of Jamshedpur FC reserves side in 2018-19 and later got appointed at Churchill Brothers for 2019-20 I-League season. Talking about his stints at both places, he said, “Being at Jamshedpur FC reserve side was the turning point for me in my life. The team performed very well in the I-League 2nd Division. Being a goalkeeping coach there, I learned a lot of things. Last season, I got selected at Churchill Brothers FC. It is the stint I will remember forever in my life because I will be always thankful to Churchill Alemao for encouraging and inspiring me to take up the ‘Goalkeeping Level-3’ course. It was the only batch that happened in India till now and I was the youngest to pass it out at the age of 32 years.”
The goalkeeping coach always has to decide on selecting the right goalkeeper for the starting eleven. Speaking of the selection and motivating the benched goalkeepers, Sawant said, “For me, no one is special. The decision of selecting the right one for starting eleven is based on various details and training sessions. Every staff member like the head-coach, fitness coach and analyst are also involved. The goalkeepers who are benched needs to understand that they need to work harder. Everyone gets the opportunity, but you have to wait for the right chance and grab it.“
Sawant also mentioned that he played in Kolhapur which has huge football followers but yet the city has been undiscovered. Quoting on football structure and developments needed in India to bring the spotlight to cities like Kolhapur, Sawant expressed, “I played in Kolhapur. The city is mad about football and football has been religious there. In terms of developments, we need to focus more on grassroots. There should be more tiers and as wanted we can see promotion and relegation soon. Most importantly, state leagues should be connected and should bring the undiscovered football cities to the spotlight. Simply recommending, we can follow the English football structure which comprises of conferences in lower divisions.”
Sawant has been currently in charge of Gokulam Kerala FC, speaking about the offer and team, he said, “Due to the pandemic situation, the league is happening behind closed doors, that too in a changed format. Before IFA shield, I received the offer and I found the project very fascinating. Recently, we had a good performance from the team in the IFA shield. We are trying to improve more every day and the whole coaching staff is working as a team for I-League.“
“Fans are our strength but unfortunately they will not be in the stadium to cheer us up. But, I say, keep faith in us and keep supporting us and we ensure, we will bring the I-League trophy home,” he ended leaving the message for the fans.