BECAUSE THEY have looked adversity in the eye and not blinked, there is usually a zing in the tale of comeback kids. And that is why the story of Abhijit Mondal needs to be told. When Dempo coach Armando Colaco embraced him in Kozhikode after winning the first I-League, it completed a remarkable turnaround for a goalkeeper who, hit by a lower back problem, was contemplating retirement at age 28.
"Never thought it would turn out like this but I can't thank Dempo enough," he told HT from Kozhikode on Saturday. Having initially put down a stab of pain to a professional hazard, Mondal played through it against Churchill Brothers in August 2006 in the Goa league. "I would be fine till I jogged two rounds and then, I wouldn't be able to walk," he told HT.
MRIs revealed a disc problem and a Kolkata doctor suggested surgery. The lay person's notion is that if a back surgery goes wrong, you could be bed-ridden for life and I was no exception, Mondal said. "But I would have to forget football without surgery," he said. So, without telling anyone, his parents included, Mondal checked into a south Kolkata hospital and was operated on in January 2007.
When the pain didn't abate even 45 days after surgery, Mondal said he panicked. But an athletics coach, Tapan Ghosh, at the Friends Of Stadium in Kolkata where Mondal was a trainee got him started with a set of exercises in March 2007. In July, Mondal called up Colaco and told an incredulous coach that he was game for goalkeeping again. Colaco turned believer only after a practice match against Salgaocar at the start of this season. "He (Mondal) defied conventional wisdom to make a miraculous comeback," Colaco said.
Even on match days, Mondal now exercises his back for an hour. On non-match days, it is two hours. "It's made me stronger and a better goalkeeper," he said. "He is an example for all of us. He has shown that if you work hard enough at something, you get it," Dempo skipper Roberto Mendes Silva (Beto) said.