About eight years ago, a fresh-faced teenager turned up at Mohun Bagan-CFC ground with his father. The young boy was filled with bubbliness that made him instantly lovable. His father Jamshid Nassiri’s presence made the onlookers more curious about how young Kiyan performed on the pitch. Jamshid was an East Bengal legend, an important cog in the famed Majid (Bishkar)-Jamshid partnership in the 1980s. From the very beginning, Kiyan Nassiri carried a rich football legacy.
Across the divide, centre line to be precise, where the Bagan youth train cheek by jowl with their CFC counterparts, the trained eye of Amiya Ghosh, the green-and-maroon youth team coach, spotted promise in young Kiyan. “One day I walked up to Jamshid and told him to give his boy to us instead of him playing for CFC. He agreed. That’s when the journey began,” Ghosh tells The Indian Express.
From U-13, Kiyan’s progression to U-15 was seamless. In between, he had played for Bengal U-14s, carrying advice from his father. “Aspire to play for your country, India. I think that’s the only advice I have given to Kiyan since he has started playing football. Otherwise, I usually don’t speak to him about his game,” Jamshid recalls.
How it started ➡️ How it’s going ✨
— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) January 31, 2022
After the derby delight, he has raised the bar a little higher. “Playing for India should be Kiyan’s next target. And he must work harder and aim the higher Asian leagues or Europe three-four years down the line,” Jamshid tells this paper.
Football transcends geographic boundaries. In 1979, Jamshid came to India from Iran to pursue his studies at the Aligarh University. A year later, with the club facing a mass exodus of players to Mohammedan Sporting, two East Bengal recruiters bumped into him and his close friends, Majid and Mahmood Khabaji, during an inter-university football tournament. A switch to Calcutta followed. Majid was the star of the pack, while Jamshid would always play second fiddle to his more gifted mate.
Till this day, Majid unarguably remains the finest overseas footballer ever to play in India. But his life lacked discipline, contributing to his quick decline and an inglorious return to Iran. Jamshid had a more successful and lengthy career because he embraced discipline. Gradually, he made India his adopted home and Kiyan was born here in November 2000, as an Indian citizen.
In the 1960s and 70s, Calcutta was Indian football’s nursery and some fantastic coaches like Achyut Banerjee and Khokon Mallick for example, at the grassroots level, contributed to that. Good coaches at the youth level are at a premium in this city at the moment. Men like Ghosh are exceptions. Not only did he look after Kiyan’s football, but the Bagan youth coach ensured that his ward had a wholesome development.
‘Willing to learn’
“Kiyan made my job easier, for he was always willing to learn. He would train alone, polishing his shooting and other aspects of his game, after our scheduled practice sessions were over. His father would wait outside the touchline until Kiyan was done. That was Jamshid’s mental support to his son,” Ghosh says.
Circa 2019 was Kiyan’s breakthrough year. He was the showstopper at a U-19 tournament organised by a TV channel. It took him to the Bagan senior team trial where he impressed then club coach Kibu Vicuna. Kiyan got a professional contract.
Jamshid thanks Vicuna for his son’s development. He lauds ATK Mohun Bagan head coach Juan Ferrando to give Kiyan the opportunity to showcase his talent in the Indian Super League derby. Ferrando resisted the temptation to bring on a half-fit Roy Krishna and introduced the youngster instead, despite chasing the game against SC East Bengal. Before this, Kiyan’s appearances had been restricted to much shorter cameos, just five-ten minutes on the pitch. Given 30-odd minutes to prove his mettle, Kiyan emerged as a star, becoming the youngest player to score a hat-trick in the derby.
The 21-year-old injected life into a derby that was seen as losing relevance. To start with, without crowd presence and the matches in Goa rather than Kolkata, derbies have become ghost games in the last two years. The current plight of SC East Bengal has made matters worse. While ATK Mohun Bagan are playing to win the title, their arch-rivals would have been in a relegation scrap if the ISL weren’t a closed-shop league, without promotion and relegation.
When the tournament, which has been punctuated with Covid-19 forced postponements, was becoming a drag due to average performances and even poorer refereeing, Kiyan arrived like a breath of fresh air, reminding us that all was not lost in Indian football yet.
He carried a Bhaichung Bhutia-like effervescence, not the Bhutia of the 1997 Federation Cup semifinal vintage, where he netted a hat-trick against Bagan, but a few years earlier, when he finished former India centre-half Tarun Dey’s career in a derby, through his twists, turns and shoulder drops. Bhutia went on to play for Bury FC in England. For Kiyan, he has a long way to go to emulate the former Indian football team captain.
Little wonder then that he maintained equanimity. “There’s nothing to celebrate. We returned to our hotel after the match, had my dinner and slept,” Kiyan said via the club media. About his father, he said: “He never set a target for me. He just tells me to work hard.”
The return-leg derby in the ISL saw the emergence of a star and the Indian football team coach Igor Stimac must have taken note. “Kiyan needs to add muscle mass to graduate to international football. He has a natural goal-scoring ability. His shooting and finishing are very good. He plays his football with his brain. But his ball control calls for improvement and most importantly, he has to be physically stronger,” says Ghosh.
Until then, according to his youth team coach, Kiyan would be better used as a winger, not as a striker.