THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: When the Kerala team for the 71st Santosh Trophy national football championships was announced on Friday, one player who caught the eye was Noushad K. Of the 11 new faces in the squad, he is in line to finally make his senior state debut soon -- at the age of 32!
For ardent followers of the game, it will come as a mystery as to why the astute defender from Naduvattam in Kozhikode has never played for the state team despite him being a time-tested stalwart in India's domestic football circuit.
Noushad first caught attention as a spirited right-back for Viva Kerala FC in the I-League 2009-10. The following season, the defender made the switch to Kolkata's Prayag United SC and his stock has been on the rise ever since at the Mecca of Indian football.
In Kolkata, Noushad also represented Chirag United, Mohammedan SC and Bhawanipore FC who he captained ever since the Federation Cup 2014 held in Manjeri before leaving them for Kerala after the conclusion of this year's Calcutta Football League.
"To be very honest, playing for Kerala was the only thing in my mind when deciding to leave Kolkata this year. I did not think twice when coach Bino George who I know for long asked me to come and play for Baselius College, Kottayam," Noushad said on Saturday.
Noushad, who now plays at centre back, was once before called up to the Kerala camp in 2013 but did not make the final squad. "I don't know why I was overlooked, but I feel that I was in the best days of my career, back then," he said.
"That does not mean I cannot do a job now. I leave it to pundits and fans to judge how good I still am," he said. Noushad with vice-captain Firos Kalathingal are the seniormost players in the young squad and will be expected to inspire and lead the group.
"All the players are focused on the job. Coach V P Shaji and his staff have done a great job, but it is now our responsibility as players to produce results on the field," said Noushad, who is known as 'Bapu' among friends. He feels that home advantage and spectators can play a role in the team's fortunes.
"The frenzy of Indian Super League is still fresh. Though we are not Kerala Blasters, we still represent Kerala and I think there will be spectators coming from all over Kerala to cheer us at Kozhikode," said Noushad. Kerala will open their south zone campaign against Puducherry at the EMS Corporation Stadium on January 5.