by Meera Rathod
Inspired by Pawan Kumar, young goalkeeper Lara Sharma relishing opportunity at ATK and moulding himself into Gurpreet Singh Sandhu heir.
You might not have heard of ATK’s Lara Sharma, but he’s tipped to achieve big things in the future.
Towering over the vast majority of players, coaches and other football-related individuals, the 6ft 3ins shot stopper’s frame, agility and natural ability have already seen him earmarked as the successor to Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.
Lara obsession stemmed from the fact that his father is a football enthusiast and used to coach Lara in his early days of his footballing career and was subject to the constant buzz he shared as a sports loving kid.
On pitch, he looks up to England International Joe Hart and Indian National Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Liverpool FC is the team he admires enormously.
The young goalkeeper was part of the AIFF-owned Indian Arrows squad in the 2017-18 season before moving to Indian Super League side ATK and played for their second team in the Hero I-League.
Lara currently trains with the first team at the ATK and he appears regularly as the first-choice keeper for ATK reserve squad playing in the second division. Although he has been included in the ATK first team, he has yet to appear in a competitive match. In light of Dheeraj Singh contribution this season and a potential desire for more first team action, Lara may be in line to take over as second choice keeper sooner rather than later.
On top of the hype surrounding the young U-19 international, he is relishing the opportunity to learn behind the likes of Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Pawan Kumar.
In the interview, the 20-year-old, Punjab native opens up about his journey so far, what it taught him and his own personal career targets.
So to begin, tell us a bit about your early years. How old were you when you first started playing football and did you always want to be a footballer?
My father is the one who taught me everything and he was a local football player in Punjab. When I was young, he used to take me with him to the ground. In 2008, I started practise, he takes me in the early morning and also in the evening two times a day.
In my early days my father was the one who trained me and eventually, after getting into the school team my interest in football started to grow.
Later, I joined local academy in Punjab, and in 2012 when I represented for nationals in Kolkata. And in 2012 to 2014, I was trained by Sant Baba Hazara Singh Academy in Patiala. Later 2015, I gave trails in TFA (Tata Football Academy) and haven’t looked back since.
When you were younger who was the player you idolised and thought ‘I want to be great like that’?
In the beginning, I never had that much knowledge about football so I didn’t had any Idol. My father had passion and he was playing so I just had little bit of interest. I was like just go to the ground and play.
Pawan Kumar, Sehnaj Singh, and Bikramjit Singh all used to come to the same ground. Particularly, I used to gaze at Pawan Kumar and see that he is diving, falling and flying so I felt like even I really wanted to do like him.
Goalkeeper is a position is often seen as a maverick role, a bit like the drummer in a band! What do you think it was that drew you to goalkeeping in particular?
My inspiration was Pawan Kumar and by looking at the way he plays the game I decided to become a goalkeeper and when I said to father he never showed that much interest, but my mother was the one who brought me the gloves around 500 or 600 rps and I started to play with that. My friends and father said that comparatively I’m taller than other guys of your age and they also very supportive towards my decision of becoming a goalkeeper.
How would you describe your playing style? Are you a sweeper-keeper or shot-stopper? And which keeper would you compare it to?
I have been following Manchester City for the past five years. Joe Hart is one of my favourite players and I watch all his games. I look at him and feel like my body language also is similar to him.
Phrase you overuse the most during a game?
I always say to myself that I should do and learn something new. If I am going for a match, I keep clean sheet, cover all angles and etc. I should not make any mistake which I did yesterday and just pray to God that I have to perform well and win the match.
What’s the best match you have ever played? And it was against whom?
Two months back in Calcutta Football League were the score was 3-2 and if we lose that match then we would be out of the league and if the match was draw, we would qualify but in the 91st minute the opponent team were awarded a penalty and I saved it. That was the best ever moment in my life till now.
Obviously, it’s early days in your career, but what’s been the highlight so far? Like achievements and awards.
When I was in Tata Football Academy goalkeeper for 3 years, I received an award when passing out in the academy. And with the Indian U-19 side when we acquired 3rd position also is one of the best achievements till now.
What are your hopes for your football career, is there a level you would like to achieve?
Right now, my focus is to play in the Indian Senior team as soon as possible like Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is one of the best goalkeeper in Indian Football team, same position tomorrow, I wanted to be in. Then, I want to play in Asian countries and right now this is my goal.
Currently, who would you say is your favourite Indian player and why?
If you could have a one-hour conversation with any historical footballer or athlete, who would you pick and what topic would you choose?
Pawan Kumar. He lives nearby my home, if time permits, I would like to sit with him and talk. Because when I was young, he used to teach me everything. He keeps telling me that you have good height and can do wonders in football. He used to take me to the gym, give me training and lots of things. I love to share with him. Other than that, my dream is also to play with or against Sunil Chettri.
What’s your go-to move when celebrating a big victory? Fist pump? Jump in the air?
My first reaction would be – I bow down on my knees and spread down my hands and thank god. Whether we win the match or save a penalty.
How can you, as a goalkeeper, train to stay calm and focused during a penalty shot? And what goes through your mind during the time?
I should stay calm and controlled because any mistake I make will affect my team. Hence, I try to make myself relaxed and play the game.