Lara Sharma is one among a crop of talented Indian goalkeepers right now. The young Indian custodian, currently with ATK Mohun Bagan, might not be as renowned as his compatriot Dheeraj Singh, but is making giant strides behind the scenes.
The 20-year-old is yet to make an appearance for the Kolkata-based side in ISL, but Lara Sharma still enjoys the mini-rivalry with Dheeraj as the two push each other to get better and fight for a spot between the sticks.
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda, Lara said, "Dheeraj has played the U-17 World Cup and brings a ton of experience to the table. He is also a talented keeper, who makes headway day-after-day. But, I relish the competition with Dheeraj.
This healthy mini-rivalry between us is only turning out to be a positive factor as we push each other to improve. In football it's always not easy, but if I keep working hard, I could probably nick his spot one day."
India has delivered some quality domestic goalkeepers including Vishal Kaith, Mohammad Nawaz, and Dheeraj Singh over the past few years. India's number one Gurpreet Singh Sandhu turned 28 this February. Goalkeepers generally hit their peak during their late 20s or early 30s.
Unfazed by what lies ahead of him, the young Indian shot-stopper from Punjab desires to make day-to-day progress and earn a national cap one day.
"I know it will be a mad fight for the goalkeeping spot with the national team as there are many Indian goalkeepers currently. It is always tough to compete with someone like Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, and I'm totally focused on playing more in ISL or I-League in the coming years. I'm not looking far ahead because I'm now in the learning process. Like many footballers, my dream is to earn a national cap one day," he added.
Lara Sharma and experienced campaigner Pawan Kumar stay near each other in Gurdaspur, Punjab. He reveals that watching the former Chennaiyin FC custodian and playing with him inspired him to become a goalkeeper.
Lara Sharma came through the ranks of the Tata Football Academy, Jamshedpur, before being handpicked by the selectors for the U-18 Indian team. He was also a part of the squad which finished third in the U-18 SAFF Championship in 2017.
"Myself and Pawan Kumar, who I consider as a big brother, stay near in the same city. After watching him play closely, I preferred to become a goalkeeper. I played a lot with him before getting picked by the Tata Football Academy in 2015. Then a big door opened for me with the U-18 Indian team.
Even though I was not part of the eleven during the U-18 SAFF Championship, training with that competitive bunch from my age group made me a better player," he added.
Since signing for ATK Mohun Bagan in 2018, Lara Sharma has made 10 appearances in the I-League second division. He also started a decent chunk of games in the Calcutta league.
During our interaction, Lara Sharma recollected the game against Barisha FC, where he managed to keep out a penalty in the dying seconds of the game. His save helped the team maintain top spot in the table and qualify for the knockouts.
"After the final whistle, my teammates ran towards me to celebrate that victory. That made me so happy and I felt proud of myself that day. That game against Barisha is the most memorable victory till date, and it will stay with me forever." Lara recalled.
Even though the ATK Mohun Bagan shot-stopper follows the current Premier League champions Liverpool ardently, he idolizes Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Joe Hart.
The demand for modern day goalkeepers, who can play out from the back with their feet, is growing day by day. However, different clubs adopt different methodologies in India. Hence, Lara Sharma is determined to become a jack of all trades under the bar.
"At Tata Football Academy, goalkeeping coach Subrata Dasgupta taught me to play out from the back. It eased my transition into ATK Mohun Bagan reserves team, who follow the same process as well. It (playing out from the back) is a collective benefit - for me and my team," Lara Sharma added.
However, different Indian clubs follow different methods. Regardless, you must be prepared to change your style when the manager demands you to do so. Hence, I'm focused on becoming an all-around goalkeeper." Lara Sharma concluded.
Lara Sharma is determined to improve his game and play more in the first team as quickly as possible. Lara Sharma is also open to moving to other clubs should he be promised with game-time in the Indian Super League or I-League.Published 30 Jul 2020, 14:31 IST