KOLKATA: Latifuddin Najam, the son of 1952 Helsinki Olympian Syed Khaja Moinuddin, was one of the most skilled players ever to step foot in Kolkata maidans. The Hyderabadi winger who helped the club to win many accolades during his 10-year-long stint, was conferred with Shan-e-Mohammedan (Lifetime Achievement Award) during club’s Iftar Party held at Haj House in Park Circus, Kolkata this evening.
Moments after getting the award, Latifuddin spoke on a variety of topics in an exclusive interview with mohammedansportingindia.com. EXCERPTS:
First of all congratulations on getting the Shan-e-Mohammedan. You have won many trophies in your career, but when you got this award, how much does it mean to you?
Latifuddin Najam: It is a great feeling that your services to the club have been recognized. I have always played for passion, and it was such a pleasure and joy to be able to do what I did. I never think of any awards while playing, but today I felt honored to receive this award from Mohammedan Sporting Club. I wish this award will serve as an inspiration to the younger generation to do their best for the club.
Let’s go back to the beginning of Latifuddin. How did you get into football?
Latifuddin Najam: To be honest I never truly believed that I would become a professional footballer when I first began to play as a child. I played the game because I loved it. When I realized that it was going to be my future, I started to practice more and playing seriously.
You are of course a role model to many around the country, but even a great footballer like yourself must have had a role model?
Latifuddin Najam: My inspiration, role model whatever you want to call, has always been my father (Syed Khaja Moinuddin). He was one of the faces of Hyderabad football as well as Indian football, that many aspiring footballers looked up to for inspiration. I always spent time following him. He was my first coach and he taught me everything I know. I owe my career to my father. He always used to tell me whatever you do be honest with it. I think I have made him proud along the way.
Who were some of your playing mates when you made your Mohammedan Sporting Club debut and how difficult was it getting into the team?
Latifuddin Najam: I first joined Mohammedan Sporting Club in 1970. I was 17 years old at the time and the players like Peter Thangaraj, Syed Nayeemuddin, Mohammad Habib, Sadatullah Khan, Syed Lateefuddin (Senior), Sardar Khan were there in the team. It was extremely difficult getting into the side as some of all time greats in Indian football were already there, but I patiently waited for my turn and when it came I grabbed it with both hands.
You were one of the most consistent players for Mohammedan Sporting Club during your stay. How difficult has it been to maintain consistency for such a long time?
Latifuddin Najam: It has been very difficult, this world is full of up’s and downs. There were many challenges along the way but with almighty Allah on your side, things worked out for me. I felt like I had divine help whenever I faced setbacks.
What are the high and low points of your career?
Latifuddin Najam: My highest points was me scoring the equalizing goal for India in the final of 1974 Asian Junior Championship. Going into the final against Iran, not many people gave us a chance but we had self belief and fought hard to earn a 2-2 draw and crowned joint winners.
I don’t think there was any low points in my career. However, there were some moments when I felt disappointed. One of them was not being able to win the Calcutta Football League for Mohammedan Sporting Club in 1975. I thought we had the best team that year and all of us were in good form but one bad match finished it all.
What do you think the reason behind Hyderabad football’s decline?
Latifuddin Najam: I think there are a lot of issues tied in there. We have administrative problems in Hyderabad football. Even players themselves may not be as focused as they should be. I suppose complacency would be a factor as well as the fact that we thought because we have always produced great players over the years, we don’t have to do much and they will keep turning up and by the time we realized that it’s not so easy, we were already on our way down the ladder. Hyderabad football have been the architect of it’s own decline, we really can’t blame anybody else.
What do you think of Indian Super League (ISL), what effect has ISL had on Indian football?
Latifuddin Najam: It has helped in many areas. It has given a lot of young players an opportunity to play against or with some of the top foreign players. It is a good innovation for Indian football because not only it bring new players in but it also bringing people back to Indian football.
You have brought great entertainment to fans all over the country for many years and we thank you for that and also for your time today in doing this interview.
Latifuddin Najam: My pleasure and many thanks to all of your readers and my fans for all the support and well wishes over the years.