Bengal was once the plethora of talented footballers in India as the state boasted of quality players in every department. But gone are those golden times; nowadays, barring a few talented outfield players like Mehtab Hossain, Lalkomal Bhowmick and Arnab Mondal, Bengal mainly produces talented goalkeepers. Subrata Pal, Subhasish Roy Chowdhury, Arindam Bhattacharya, Abhra Mondal and Abhijit Mondal are well known throughout the football fraternity of the nation due to their displays between the sticks for various I-League clubs. However, the name of Ishan Debnath may not ring an instant bell like the above mentioned players. But Debnath’s heroics both on and off the field is worth mentioning.

Rewind to December 2013. An I-League meeting between Mohun Bagan and United Sports was underway at the Salt Lake Stadium. A long ball from midfield freed Odafa Okolie, who chased the ball to give the Green and Maroon the advantage by placing it at the back of the net. Debnath, who was guarding the United Sports goal, charged off his line to thwart the danger, while full-back Deepak Mondol also rushed to the scene to help out his goalkeeper. What followed was a severe accident as Mondal’s sliding tackle caught the custodian’s shin-bone, thus breaking it into two. Writhing in pain, Debnath had to be carried off the field on a stretcher and the 23-year-old knew his playing career was in danger of coming to an abrupt end.

Debnath in action against Mohun Bagan.

Debnath in action against Mohun Bagan.

Debnath had to undergo surgery in which steel plates were installed to support the broken shin-bone, and the former Mumbai FC player then spent three agonising months in bed. During that time the youngster made a promise to return to the field and made fellow goalkeeper Abhra an inspiration. The East Bengal shot-stopper suffered a similar horrific injury while on loan at Pune FC in 2012, but made a successful recovery. “I have to play again. If Abhra can, so can I,” Debnath was quoted as saying to a Bengali daily while recalling that period.

After the initial three months, Debnath started his rehabilitation. He spent a lot of time in the gymnasium and then started practicing with the ball. His “Sir”, Debashish Mukherjee, who was a great goalkeeper himself during his playing days, helped him a lot during this period. Debnath trained in different grounds and different conditions under the guidance of Mukherjee, in view of becoming fully fit. Debnath also credits his “idol”, Subrata Pal in backing him and providing him with the necessary courage and motivation.

“Debashish Sir and Mishtu da (Subrata) always gave me the courage. They always used to say that ‘you have to return. These types of injuries happen to footballers.’ Their motivation was a big reason behind my successful rehabilitation.”

Apart from providing motivation, Pal also gave important tips to Debnath to become a better goalkeeper. And the young custodian revealed that he never allowed any negative thoughts to cloud his mind in that period. “I never thought about my injury. I just told myself that I have to come back, that it is possible to come back even after a serious injury,” he continued.

Debnath’s positive mindset definitely seemed to have paid off as after training for one-and-a-half months under Mukherjee, the goalkeeper claimed that he is ready to play a full match. “I am one hundred per cent ready. If you put me in a match, I will be able to play the entire game,” Debnath declared. During his rehabilitation period, United Sports officials and former team-mates regularly kept in touch with Debnath. However, he is yet to find any club for the 2014/15 campaign. But on a positive note, the goalkeeper has been picked up by India Super League (ISL) franchisee Mumbai City FC, who also have his “idol”, Pal in their ranks. Debnath was initially saddened after his home-city franchisee Atletico de Kolkata did not pick him up, but the Tata Football Academy product quickly recovered from the disappointment and vowed to give his all for the Mumbai outfit. “I am a professional footballer. I am ready to play anywhere. But yes, I would have liked to play for Kolkata,” he insisted. It seems Debnath has eyed the ISL as the platform for returning to action.

Debnath may not be a premier goalkeeper of the country, but still his fighting spirit and steely determination deserves praise. One hopes that other starlets take a leaf out of Debnath’s book and return to the field with the same gritty attitude after serious injuries.