Pranjal Bhumij has been a Mumbai City FC player since the 2017-18 season of the Indian Super League (ISL), when he was signed as a development player. It was in the 2018-19 season that he made 11 appearance in the ISL but apart from that, chances were far and few. This season, he made three off-the-bench appearances against Odisha FC twice and SC East Bengal before getting the big start against ATK Mohun Bagan in the ISL Shield shootout. It was a match of huge significance for Mumbai City FC and coach Sergio Lobera showed faith in the 22-year-old.
Mumbai City FC were two points behind table-toppers ATK Mohun Bagan on February 28 on the final day of the league stage of the ISL. They needed a win against ATKMB to win the ISL Shield and seal the AFC Champions League spot while ATKMB could have achieved that objective with even a draw. Mumbai, however, controlled the game from start to finish and came out victorious 2-0, earning their first top of the table finish in the club’s short history.
In a game of that much important, Pranjal was given his first start of the season and he didn’t disappoint his coach. “Coach had told me in training one day that keep working hard and show yourself in the match when you get the chance. He didn’t really stay anything before the match (vs ATK Mohun Bagan). When Lobera put me on the pitch, he just asked me to play my game and enjoy the football. I wasn’t nervous because I had played ATK Mohun Bagan before. Also, I have been with Mumbai City FC long enough to get this kind of experience," Pranjal expressed to News18.com in an exclusive interaction.
Pranjal played on the right-wing and provided fabulous support to Jahouh behind him and Adam Le Fondre just ahead of him. Pranjal’s pace and guile on the right-wing created constant problems for Pronay Halder and Pritam Kotal, who were both manning that flank. Of course the presence of Le Fondre around helped as the striker dragged defenders along with him but Pranjal showed a calm head to play to the plan and fulfil his role well. He shared that he usually always asks his coaches after the match about the mistakes he made in order to improve but after that win over ATK Mohun Bagan, he didn’t have much to discuss since he didn’t make too many mistakes.
“It felt very good. I hadn’t thought I would get a chance to play in the Shield final. It was a very important match and the coach gave me the confidence to play so it felt very nice," Pranjal said.
Born in Sivasagar, Assam, Pranjal started playing football from the age of five or six. There was a playground near his home and seeing his older brothers and sister play football, he almost naturally picked up the sport. He started out as a midfielder but it was only after he joined DSK Shivajians in 2017 that was put on as a striker or on the wings.
“I can play all of right and left-wing and centre forward. Coaches can put me in any position and I am comfortable. Initially, when my position changed, I always used to talk to the senior and the coaches about what to do and how to do. It is also the YouTube age so I have learned a lot from there as well. I always ask my coaches what I did wrong and try to learn from that," Pranjal explained.
Being on the sidelines and not getting chances to play can be hard for youngsters to take but Pranjal said he never lets these thoughts bother him and he would rather put his focus in training.
“I don’t think too much about whether I get a chance or not. I don’t sulk when I don’t get a chance. I just work harder and harder in training and think that I will show myself on the pitch as and when I get the chance. If I don’t work hard enough and I get a chance to play, I won’t be able to do well. So I just stay motivated and think even if I don’t get a chance, I will keep putting in all my effort and train well. I always feel that if I didn’t get a chance to play, I must have done something wrong, which I why I come back the next day in training and work harder to improve."
His perseverance did pay off for him with Hugo Boumous absent due to suspension and Lobera forced to try different options and setups.
In his first start of the season, he helped him team win the ISL Shield and Pranjal said Lobera never pressurised the team and rather just asked them to play as they normally do and the result will come with it. Well, it did and the celebrations were massive.
“We celebrated crazily that day. I don’t even know what all I did, we were so happy. We made such a good comeback to win the Shield so it just felt like a very satisfying win. We got a day’s rest after the massive night of celebration," Pranjal shared.