27 Nallappan Mohanraj
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Nallappan Mohanraj might well be one of the few seasoned left-backs in the country now, but he discovered his footballing abilities by accident.
Back in 2000, the youngster joined the Sports School of Sports Authority of India (SAI) in Madurai, as they promised him free accommodation, and more importantly, education.
With his father having passed away in his formative years, such grants were invaluable for Mohanraj and supported by his uncle and mother, he made his way to Madurai, where he went on to discover that he had the talent to make it as a footballer.
After excelling at the centre in Madurai, in 2003-04, the defender joined the SAI Sports Hostel in Chennai. The player’s progress hit the first road-block back in 2006, when he went for the Tata Football Academy trials, but was rejected, throwing his future in the game in jeopardy.
However, there proved to be a silver lining even to this problem, as Carlton Chapman, the then Assistant Coach of TFA, recognized his potential and recommended him to HAL SC in Bangalore, where he duly signed.
From then there was no looking back for the defender, as a good season with the Bangalore side saw him not only earn a move to Kolkata’s Mohun Bagan, but also for the Under-19 national team, from which he made giant strides and eventually earned a senior national side call-up under Bob Houghton.
With the Kolkata side, Mohanraj made good progress, tasting Federation Cup glory with the side, while cementing his place as the first choice left-back of the club.
His services were missed by the Kolkata outfit for much of last season, as injuries prevented the gifted left-footed full-back from playing as regularly as he would have wanted.
Eventually Mohanraj did regain fitness, and after several years in Kolkata and decided to make a switch to Pune FC to reinvigorate his career. Almost instantly, he was named in the senior National camp preparing for the Nehru Cup 2012.
Impressed by the professional set-up of the club, the player, who idolizes Ashley Cole for his robust defending skills and consistency, traits which he shares with the Chelsea defender, feels that there is no reason why the club cannot accomplish great things in the future and win some silverware.