Mohammed Rafi was a good sprinter during his school days. He was also good at chasing birds… birds of the badminton kind.
But one day, he attended a football trial at the Thrikarippur Government School in Kasargod and instantly fell in love with the beautiful game. He was a late starter, around 15 then, but he worked doubly hard.
Kerala Blasters may be down in the dumps in the ISL now but Rafi is among the top goal-getters in the league with four from three games.
No goals last year
Surprisingly, the former Indian striker, who shares the record of being the highest Indian goal-scorer ever in the I-League and National League along with Baichung Bhutia and Chhetri with 14 goals in the 2009-2010 season, failed to find the net even once in 10 ISL games last year though he finished in the champion side Atletico de Kolkata.
“Last year, I did not play as a striker at all. I played on the wing, as a left half. This time I’ve played as a striker in all the three games so far, so I got more chances to score,” the 33-year-old told The Hindu on Friday.
Fastest ISL goal
Rafi was off to a quick start this season, scoring on his Blasters debut and also slotted home the fastest-ever ISL goal with a 48-second strike against Pune City early this week. All his four goals were exciting headers.
“Rafi has been outstanding. I think he’s one of the best headers of the ball in the competition. His finishing with headers is excellent,” said the Blasters’ coach Trevor Morgan.
Rafi had been a hit in Kerala during his playing days here but it was in Mumbai, and Mahindra United, where he went 10 years ago that his football career took wings.
Since Mumbai’s Harwood League did not allow foreign strikers to play, it offered Rafi plenty of chances, raising his confidence level.
And in the 2009-2010 season he was adjudged Football Players Association of India’s Player of the Year. A little later, he was playing for India.