In the previous ISL season with NorthEast United FC, Ashutosh Mehta made 62 tackles, 23 interceptions, 50 clearances, and 26 blocks in 18 matches. He also bagged two assists and a goal, playing in the right-back position.
But for a national team call-up, Mehta had to wait more than a decade since his first appearance in the I-League.
One expects a player to be nervous before his first international match for India. The same was the case with Ashutosh Mehta when he had to appear for the national team against Oman in their recent friendly. However, Indian football team coach Igor Stimac personally called him to his room and boosted his confidence.
"(Igor) Stimac called me to his room and gave me some tactical advice. He told me, 'I know this is your first match (for the Indian football team). I have been following you for the last two seasons. You have all the attributes to play at the highest level. You have aggression, you are good in the air, you are fast. So just believe in yourself and go out. The nation is waiting for you,' " Mehta recounted.
"I got so much confidence that I didn't feel any pressure despite it being my international debut. Of course, if any coach tells you good stuff before the match, your confidence will be boosted," Ashutosh Mehta told Sportskeeda.
The Indian football team found itself on the back foot after the first half as it trailed 1-0 against Oman. However, the Blue Tigers scored the equalizer after the change of sides and salvaged a draw.
"After the first half, he (Igor Stimac) told the team we didn't play well. We could have played better and we bounced back in the second half. We need to learn from this and perform better in the future," Ashutosh Mehta further added.
"100% it was a bit late" - Ashutosh Mehta on Indian football team call-up
The journeyman right-back has two I-League trophies to his name but was overlooked by former national coaches Wim Koevermans and Stephen Constantine. Ashutosh Mehta agreed that the Indian football team's call-up came a little late.
"Whatever happens, happens for the best. As I said, you can start things late, you can fall, you can lose, you can mess up things. But still you can succeed. I knew that I should never give up. That is my hallmark trait of commitment, discipline, and attitude. It has always been there with me since I started playing," Mehta said.
"I know where I'm coming from. I feel like I am a mazdoor (labor). I knew I shouldn't compromise on my hard work. 100% it was a bit late. I was disappointed as well. But it only motivated me to work hard. I knew my time would come because I believed in myself," Ashutosh Mehta added.
Ashutosh Mehta also spoke about the low point in his career that came after the 2018-19 ISL season ended. He was struggling with injuries and all ISL clubs shunned him. The 30-year-old had to prove his mettle in the I-League, where he clinched the championship with Mohun Bagan.
"There was a time when I got very upset after my stint with FC Pune City. I got injured and found it difficult to find a team. I had a lot of problems that time both professionally and personally. But, I believed in my capabilities," Ashutosh Mehta signed off.