Up Close and Personal With Aizawl’s new Afghani Sensation: Masih Saighani
Aizawl and Kabul, two cities the similarities between which are next to zero. The small city from India’s North-eastern state of Mizoram came into the headlines of the footballing world by producing the first ever I-League winners from this part of the world in the form of Aizawl FC.
Ours today’s story is about a man on the broad shoulders of whom the title defence of Paulo Meneses’ men would depend to a great extent this season. Masih Saighani, the lanky Afghani defender is all set to lead the Mizo outfit from the back in India’s top flight league this season.
Saighani’s story starts at Kabul, but from thereon he shifts to Germany. With a blend of Afghan aggression with German toughness, the Afghan international is all set to steal the show this time around in the new country.
Before that LNTUP caught up with Masih Saighani and from his life on-the-field to off, the conversation encompassed it all.
□LNTUP: Masih, you are really having a good time in the Mizoram Premier League
How has been your experience of India till now?
●Masih: Thank you, I am very happy right now that I took the decision to move to India. The people here are very polite and kind and my teammates helped me to adjust here as much as possible. For sure it’s a different kind of lifestyle if you move from Frankfurt to Aizawl but I enjoy it and like it.
□LNTUP: How did you come to know about Aizawl?
●Masih: My agent asked me if I was interested to move to Aizawl FC because they offered me a contract. After I myself enquired about the club and the region and saw that they are the current I-League champions, the situation was very fast clear for me that I would do it.
Although it’s still pre-mature, but how much do you see Aizawl’s chances of defending the I-League this season? And how has been your experience playing with the local Mizo players?
●Masih: I think last year nobody expected us to become champions, it was a big suprise, like Leicester in England.
It shows that nothing is impossible and why shouldn’t we do it again? But this year after a lot of key players left the club it will be much more difficult. Now the opponent teams don’t play just against the small team from Aizawl, now they play against the current champions of India. So they will be motivated, but we have enough self confidence to play like the champions of India.
And for the second part of your question, I think the local players are very talented, speedy and athletic. The football in India is more like running with the ball and fight, in my opinion there is a little bit lack of quality in tactical sides. For this the coaching staff off course and the foreign players should cater the experience required especially to the young guns to help them develop in every aspect, and also develop as a team which is the most important aspect.
□LNTUP: Paulo Meneses-the Head Coach. If I ask you to explain him in one word what would that word be?
●Masih: Haha good question. One word is difficult, as a coach I would say focused and determined. As human, kind and funny. Talks a lot with every player and takes care of everybody.
□LNTUP: Masih, you were born in Kabul. But a major chunk of your life and almost your entire footballing career has been passed in Germany starting from Marburg. How was this transition from Afghanistan to Germany? Tell us something about those early days.
●Masih: Me myself unfortunately didn’t remember about Afghanistan much because I was only 2 years old when my family moved from Afghanistan to Germany because it was not safe that time in Afghanistan.
So I grew up in Germany, for me it was normal because I didn’t know anything else, but for my older brothers and my parents it was much more difficult to leave everything and start a new life with a new language in another culture.
□LNTUP : How do you see the current state of football in Afghanistan? Inspite of the problems within the nation, do you think that football is developing there?
●Masih: I think we have a lot of quality players in Afghanistan and all over the world. The football itself has not that much to do with the domestic problems. Sure it would be great if the FIFA would let us play our homegames in Kabul as in Tajikistan, but nobody can guarantee you 100 %safety so we can not change it.
If you compare the style of playing football now with 10 years earlier of course the football has developed in Afghanistan, also with the national league which started few years ago.
□LNTUP: Almost your entire career you have spent in several German clubs. What’s the basic difference that you have noted in their approach to the game compared to the South Asians?
●Masih: In European football it’s very simple, let the ball and the opponent run if possible. The organisation on the pitch is very good, the most important is to stay always compact against the ball and if you get the ball play easy and fast with less contacts, like play the ball and be ready to get it back.
Here it’s different, how I told you before that the first match was like a tennis match, from one side to the other side and always dangerous because there was no organization and everybody wanted to attack without thinking what will happen if we loose the ball. Player who gets the ball tries to dribble a lot with it and plays too many long balls and you see what has happenned. So the main differences are in the tactical and the mental aspect I think.
□LNTUP: Well explained! Any specific individual targets that you have set for yourself for the club and country this season?
●Masih: The most important is to stay healthy without injuries, I want to help the team with my experience and style to play football and show the young players maybe a different way (easier) way to play football. I want to play a successful season for the club and for myself.
□ LNTUP : Thanks Masih on behalf of LNTUP! It was really a nice conversation
●Masih: Thank you very much and wish you all the very best as well.