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The city of Mumbai are powered by their young core of eclectic footballing talents: of whom Johnson Mathews is one of the most well-known and burgeoning talents right now.
The 19-year-old might not be at the standard of Udanta Singh and Lallianzuala Chhangte, but he has improved with every step up he has made in his career to date. A natural finisher and an inverted winger, who is just as adept at bringing others into the game as he is at taking opportunities in front of goal.
Johnson, currently studying at Thakur College, Mumbai like so many other young footballers, started playing the beautiful game quite young, but his love and passion for football from an early age has pushed him to ply trade professionally.
He credits his sister, Joice Mathews, playing a major role in his football development as well as academics since his formative years.
A self-confessed Cristiano Ronaldo fan, Johnson bounced around various Mumbai football academies in his youth, starting with Mumbai FC and Mumbai – PIFA FC, before joining FC Pune City’s U-18 team, where he recorded six goals and five assists in just ten games in their title-winning campaign and he is currently playing for the Hero ISL club Hyderabad FC reserves.
All the evidence points towards a player with the ability to go right to the very top. He is already a very mature and intelligent footballer, defying his age with his technical ability and creativity. However, if he clings on his strong mentality and keeps on working hard, playing hard; the future seems more than bright for Mumbaikar himself and naturally making him a talent worth keeping an eye on.
Despite not playing in the top division league, you have been firing all cylinders in the recent times. What is the secret behind your consistent goal-scoring form?
I am grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had so far, and I know if I keep going like this it will not be long for me to get there. Honestly speaking It’s just the collective effort of the everyone in the team where everyone does their bit and makes the job easier. There is no big secret behind my consistent goal-scoring form – it’s just that I believe twice the amount that anyone could believe in me, I take good care of myself, do extra training, recover well, eat healthy food and keep myself around positivity.
Football is a team game and I go onto the pitch to help my teammates. Of course, within the team individual talent helps and each team must have it, but in the end, the winner is the team.
Who was your role model growing up and how did they influence the way you play on the pitch?
Has to be Cristiano Ronaldo because of his work ethic and the way he does everything. Right from starting to work one hour before the training starts. He trains and after the training, he keeps working. That is at that level that nobody expected. He always wants more. He knows that if he wants to be at this level, he needs to work more and more. He has been always a winner, who when he wakes up, he just thinks of work and work. At a professional level, he is perfect, he just thinks of work, rest, eat well and compete. That is why he keeps his shape. The most difficult thing in football is to maintain that level. You can be on the top, but to stay there as many years as Cristiano has, it is so difficult.
Who have been some of your strongest backbone or pillar for your sports career?
My family, friends, coaches, and my agency (Inventive Sports, UK) have always been the biggest motivator in my football journey.
How would you describe your game to people who have not seen you play?
I prefer to operate as a central forward or an inverted winger. However, I am flexible to help the team in any capacity I can. I have played across several positions besides goalkeeper and centre back during my school days and don’t mind taking the field across any position as long as I’m playing football and able to contribute to the success of my team.
Teenage years are probably one of the most difficult times in our lives; we can imagine a lot of your time was dedicated to training - how did you ensure a good school-training-social life balance?
Balance is the key. Be it anything one chooses to do in life within their social life, personal life, or professional life. My sister has been my guide and has helped me with my football as well as in my academics right since day one. She has definitely played a vital role in my upbringing along with my family. She has helped me get organized and stay organized, manage my time, plan my week and helping me use my weekends wisely and productively.
Great! Let's go back to when it all began ... Tell us about how you started with football. What are your first memories of football becoming something you love and a big part of your life?
My first encounter with football came back when I was around 7-years-old participating in a local fun competition, where the contestants had to put a football into a tyre which I did. Perhaps this and my parents’ support for football decided my fate with the game as I have not looked back ever since.
I did what every other boy of my age did and I have a lot of wonderful memories. I had a humble childhood, yes, but everything that my friends and I did was fun. Playing with a ball around the vicinity. It was a very good time!
You have had a lot of memorable matches but list the top 3 most gratifying matches you have ever played?
1) My first game for St.Francis D’ Assisi School in the MSSA competition U-8 category where we won 6-0 and I scored all six of them.
2) The second would be for Thakur College in the West Zone Qualifiers where I received the ball on my right foot, took the ball to my left and smashed it in the net from around 25 yards.
3) And the third would be my first U-18 I-league start against Reliance Young Champs for FC Pune City, which we won 3-1 and I scored the first goal.
What sacrifices did you find the hardest to pursue your football career, and would you say that football has changed you as a person?
Honestly, I would not call them sacrifices it’s a choice I made to help me; help myself and I’m glad that I have had my family’s support in it. Yes, what I am today is because of the game. Football has instilled several qualities like teamwork, discipline, perseverance, time management and to never give up. Be it in my personal or professional life.
How did you manage to hold on? There were difficulties, ups and downs, injuries. What made you stay afloat all this time?
The ‘WILL’ to never give up come what may and the desire to always strive to get a step further is something which keeps me motivated always.
In life there will be haters, there will be doubters, there will be non-believers, there will be people who will judge you or want to put you down with their opinions but what matters is the opinion you have about yourself. I am blessed to have surrounded myself amongst positivity and the right people who believe in me and that is what is important to me.
Which Indian Footballer do you look up to?
Udanta Singh because of his speed, work ethics style of play and his ability to track back and do defensive work.
What is your future plan as far as football goes? Do you hope to continue training through your college years and beyond?
My aim is to train hard and keep myself in the best condition during the off-season. Rest, I trust the almighty and my brother Wilbur Lasrado. There’s a plan in place for me. Till then, I will just keep doing my thing stay hungry and hustle hard to accomplish my ultimate goal one step at a time.
What’s the one song that always gets stuck in your head?
‘Go flex’ by Post Malone.
What’s something that a ton of people are obsessed with, but you don’t get the point of?
Trying to impress other people
Buying the latest iPhone as soon as it is launched
Imagine you were to be awarded the Ballon d’Or for things done in your private life, what would you receive for it?
As of now let me be honest there’s nothing big that I have done or achieved, but I feel there is a lot to do however one day if everything is in place maybe if I could do something like what Marcus Rashford has done for his work against child poverty. Top class stuff.
If you could play alongside any footballer from past or present week-in-week-out, who would that be?
I really look up to quite a few players like Sunil Chhetri, Udanta Singh, Sahal Abdul Samad, Sandesh Jhingan and Anirudh Thapa from the Indian National Team. Yes, I know I have a lot to work a lot to get to the level they are at however playing alongside them the level is definitely going to be different and the expectation is on another level will contribute towards my development.
A celebrity you dream of clicking a Dual fie with? (Mention what you want)
International Sports Celebrity: Memphis Depay and Karim Benzema.
Indian Sports Celebrity: Virat Kohli, Sunil Chhetri and Udanta Singh
Bollywood Celebrity: Nawazuddin Siddiqui
Hollywood Celebrity: Will Smith
Best compliment you have received.
The 25 yards strike in the RYFS Tournament.