In conversation with Jewel Raja19-Apr, 2012
Jewel Raja has represented India in every age group and has been part of the senior Indian team for quite sometime now. He joined McDowell Mohun Bagan this year from Indian Arrows(now Pailan Arrows). He started his career as a striker but later moved in to the midfield. His elder brother Tarif Ahmed has also represented India. Playing either in central midfield or on the right, Jewel has impressed with his performances for the Mariners.
We caught up with Jewel Raja for a little chat. Here are the excerpts.
MMB: Firstly, your original name is Tariq Ahmed. How did it become Jewel Raja?
Jewel: My elder brother's name is Tarif Ahmed and my name is Tariq Ahmed, both of us are professional footballers, but there was a lot of confusion regarding our names, so my father changed my name to Jewel Raja.
MMB: How will you rate the performance of McDowell Mohun Bagan this year?
Jewel: In spite of giving our best, we haven't succeeded in winning any silverware so far. Injuries to many key players, throughout the year, caused a lot of problem to the team. Though, we still have a bit of hope left in the Calcutta Football League.
MMB: Tell us about your experience of playing for McDowell Mohun Bagan.
Jewel: It is really a dream come true to play for a big club like McDowell Mohun Bagan. I have played for Dempo in the past, but playing for a club which has so many supporters gives a completely different feeling.
The derby matches have a very noisy and special atmosphere. This year we faced Kingfisher East Bengal on three occasions and I played the entire 90 minutes in all the matches.
MMB: In which match against Kingfisher East Bengal would you say the team's performance was the best?
Jewel: Performance wise, the 2-0 win in Calcutta Football League was the best. We completely dominated the match.
Jewel Raja in action against Kingfisher East Bengal
MMB: Which part of your game would you like to improve in the next season?
Jewel: I missed few easy goals especially against Kingfisher East Bengal. In future, I will try my level best to score in a derby game.
MMB: Did you feel any pressure playing for a big club like McDowell Mohun Bagan?
Jewel: Not really. I knew that the supporters would always back me on the ground.
MMB: Which is the position you enjoy playing most?
Jewel: It all depends on the coach and the strategy of the team. I have played in central midfield, right half and also as a striker, though if you ask me, I would say, I enjoy playing in midfield more.
MMB: Tell us something about your childhood Jewel.
Jewel: I was born in Rajibpur, Budge Budge. I used to play both cricket and football during my childhood but slowly I decided to shift to football. I was a fast bowler and used to take lot of wickets (laughing). My elder brother Tarif Ahmed, who is 5 years senior to me, was a professional footballer. Watching him play, I decided to take football as a profession.
Jewel Raja is challenged by two Southern Samity defenders
MMB: Which was your first professional club?
Jewel: I joined ONGC in 2007. They were in the 2nd division at that point, but I could not play any match for them due to my assignment with the Indian team.
MMB: When did you join Dempo?
Jewel: I joined Dempo in 2008 and played for 2 seasons.
MMB: Any memorable matches for Dempo?
Jewel: Dempo won the I-League in one season. We defeated both McDowell Mohun Bagan and Churchill by an identical margin of 4-1. Dempo became Champions by beating Shillong Lajong, with still one match to play. I played in that match for the last half an hour.
I scored one goal against Salgaocar in the Goa League.
MMB: You joined Indian Arrows(now Pailan Arrows) last year. How was the experience?
Jewel: Yes, I was supposed to play for McDowell Mohun Bagan last year, but then I was asked to play for Indian Arrows(now Pailan Arrows). It was a pretty good season for me.
Jewel Raja celebrates with the Mariners
MMB: Which has been the best year of your career so far?
Jewel: (After a pause) May be last year. My performance was good both in club level as well as while playing for India. This year also has been quite good but unfortunately we failed to win the I-League.
I also played both the pre-olympic matches against Myanmar. We beat them 2-1 in our home match and were held to a 1-1 draw in the away match. In the next round, we lost to Qatar 3-1 in the away match but held them to a 1-1 draw in the home match.
MMB: When did you get a chance to play in the Indian team?
Jewel: After winning the final for the U-16 Bengal team, I got a chance to represent the U-17 Indian team and also played for the U-19 Indian team.
Jewel Raja in action against Salgaocar
MMB: When did you first represent Indian senior national team?
Jewel: It was the AFC Cup qualifying match. I made my debut and also scored my first goal for the Indian Senior National Football team in India's 3-0 victory over Chinese Taipei on March 21, 2011 after coming on as a substitute. I played for the last 25 minutes.
MMB: Which is your favourite goal in your career?
Jewel: Last year, playing for Indian Arrows(now Pailan Arrows), I scored a good goal against HAL. I dribbled past few defenders and also got past goalkeeper to score the goal.
The goal by direct free kick against Singapore for the U-23 Indian team and also scoring in my debut match for the Indian Senior team gave me great satisfaction.
I have also scored few goals this year out of which the goal against Mumbai FC was a special one. I was very happy after scoring the goal as it was the 1st goal that I scored for McDowell Mohun Bagan and also I think this is my best goal of the season.
MMB: Which is the best match you have played in India colours?
Jewel: It is very difficult to chose, but I will say the 3 matches in Asian Games against Qatar, Kuwait and Singapore were very special indeed.
Jewel Raja and Rakesh Masih fight for the ball during practice
MMB: Tell us about your most memorable matches for Mohun Bagan.
Jewel: May be the match against Dempo which ended in 2-2 draw. Not only mine, I think this is one of the best matches of our team this year. Also the 2-0 win against East Bengal was a special one. After losing to Dempo, we came back strongly and defeated Mumbai FC 5-1 in an away match. That was also a very good match for McDowell Mohun Bagan.
MMB: Which is the best moment of your life?
Jewel: Scoring a goal in my debut match for Indian Senior Team. I will cherish this memory throughout my life.
MMB: Best of luck for your future Jewel.
Jewel: Thanks a lot.
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