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Nishant Mehra eager to return to I-League as two-year ban nears end

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Exclusive 19 Dec 2012, 18:32 IST
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Number 11: Nishant Mehra

Nishant Mehra may never be able to redeem his reputation after becoming the first, and till date, the only I-League player to be banned for doping in 2011, and the player himself admits that. The former Mumbai FC captain’s two-year ban ends in February 2013 and the 29-year-old is keen on making a return to the I-League.

Having a degree in film and media studies it would have been easy for this Arsenal fan to quit the sport completely and opt for a different profession. But even during his ban, the midfielder has been following the same routine that he used to during his professional career to keep himself fit.

Sportskeeda caught up with Nishant for an exclusive chat.

How have you been working on your fitness during the ban?

My routine over the past two years hasn’t changed much from the previous four years in the sport. I still usually wake up at about 6 am, and twice a week I also go to the Bombay Gymkhana near Churchgate to train with the team there. It’s where I started playing before I was discovered by David Booth and Mumbai FC. They are coached by the Mumbai FC U-19 coach, so it’s a great place for me to get the best out of the two hours on the field.

Have you been in touch with any clubs?

I have spent the majority of the last decade with Mumbai FC. Over that time I have developed many close relationships with the coach, the manager and the players. Apart from Mumbai FC I have occasional contact with the management at Pune FC as well. I admire their determination behind the scenes and the manner in which that team looks forward.

When exactly do you expect to make your comeback, and will it be for an I-League team?

My ban comes to an end in the first week of February and hopefully I will be on the pitch as soon as I am cleared. As things stand, the weekend of February 9th should be my first game back. My intention is to play in the I-League come February and I will settle for nothing else. Mumbai is where I am from and have settled here well, so ideally I would love to stay and play with a Mumbai outfit.

How difficult do you think it will be for you to regain your reputation as a professional football player and not be known as someone who got banned for doping?

It’s very hard for me to put into words how I actually feel about this. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s possible for me to ever shake my negative reputation. Yet, if I hold onto that and focus only on the negatives, I am basically giving up. Whether or not I come back and perform well, people are always going to highlight my ban and doping offence. I understand that and it’s a sensational topic and one of interest to many for many different reasons. Initially, I received many nasty emails and phone calls where strangers would say I had let them and myself down, but that subsided in time. People have looked at me from a distance as a fool and someone who doesn’t value his profession. Those who have been close to me prior to the ban know my nature and share my feelings about this setback. The people that have come into contact with me since the ban understand that I am not a drug addict or that I had no intention of cheating or gaining an upper hand over the competition. I can’t waste my time on what other people think of me. There is far too much other work to be done and my full attention lies there.

How much have you missed the game during the ban? Was there any point when you thought of quitting the sport?

I cannot deny that I miss it a lot and it’s always hard to watch any football, especially the I-League, without feeling like I need to be out there playing at the highest level that I can and helping my team to win games. But there’s nothing I can do about that. Having achieved a degree in film and media studies from the University of London I thought hard about going back to that field. I grew up working with Prahlad Kakkar in Genesis Film Productions in Tardeo, Mumbai and wondered whether I should go back there and pick up where I left off. After about a month spent thinking about it I came to the realisation that I have a lot more to offer on the field and in the game than anywhere else. Most importantly, I look forward to my days far more when there is football involved.

You were also coaching a local team during your ban. Tell us about it.

My ban prevents me from doing any courses in coaching or assuming any monetary gain from the sport, so as much as I wanted to use this time to build a foundation for my future it’s not been possible. However, I have been helping a friend’s team here in Bandra called Celtic7070. They compete in the historical Bandra League amongst a handful of competitive semi-professional teams, a few of which also play in MDFA leagues. It has allowed me to connect with a younger ambitious crop of players with whom I have been sharing my experience on the training ground as well as imparting psychological value for different match scenarios. I have held daily training sessions on the public park in Bandra for over a year now, obviously for no fee.

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