Published 00:49 IST, April 20th 2024

I-League's best defender Muhammad Hammad turns a step back into giant leap forward

The 26-year-old defender had suffered an ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injury a few years back, one that took him a couple of seasons to recover from.

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Muhammad Hammad | Image: AIFF

Approximately a decade ago, Muhammad Hammad, then a skinny teenager from Kashmir, was harbouring dreams of becoming a professional cricketer.

However, providence had different plans for him. In the I-League 2023–24, which was essentially his comeback season, Hammad not only donned the captain’s armband for his hometown club, Real Kashmir FC but also won the Jarnail Singh Award for Best Defender of the season for his fine performance.


“I am thankful to the coaches, the staff, and my teammates for all the help. I never thought I’d win the best defender award, but it certainly feels great to be recognised for my efforts,” Hammad said.

It's not just the limelight of being the captain or the best defender award that sets Hammad aside. The 26-year-old defender had suffered an ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injury a few years back, one that took him a couple of seasons to recover from.


Hammad had first joined Real Kashmir in 2017, when they were in the second division. However, he opted to move away from his hometown club when he was on the road to recovery, choosing not to rush his return. He played in the R-League (Rajasthan State League) for Jaipur Elite FC before playing for FC 1 in the Jammu & Kashmir Premier Football League.

“I realised while recovering from my injury that I could not play at a high level right away. It was either train and sit on the bench, or go play in a couple of state leagues to get my match fitness, and then play the I-League,” said Hammad. “Once you adjust to playing at a lower intensity, then you can move up the ranks to higher levels.”


The results of Hammad’s patience have been amazing, to say the least. He has played every minute of Real Kashmir’s I-League 2023–24 campaign, operating in the meanest defence of the league, which only let in 19 goals in 24 matches.

“It was not easy, but the tough times gave me the discipline I needed to do this. Especially when you play for Real Kashmir, you play your home matches in extremely cold weather, but then a lot of the away games are played in exactly opposite conditions, which can be difficult,” he said. “But if you maintain your discipline, you can make sure that you are fit enough for the coach to select you for every game, no matter what the conditions are.


“Not conceding goals is something that we as a club have always been good at. I think it also comes down to the atmosphere at our home matches. The fans here in Kashmir support us so passionately whenever we have a game at the TRC Turf, it just gives us all that hunger to go out and perform, to not concede, and to score goals,” said Hammad.

The Snow Leopards had a solid first half of the season, winning six of their first 11 matches, which included seven clean sheets. However, January 2024 brought forth ill tidings for the club when former owner Sandeep Chattoo passed away.


“Sandeep sir had a massive role not only in Real Kashmir FC but also in football in Jammu and Kashmir. I’ve been with the club from the start, so I’ve known him closely. He used to help everyone on a personal basis,” said Hammad. “It’s not easy to sustain in the I-League for so many years. Now we have an I-League club and a steady stream of players in the I-League, so it’s a big thing.

“It was a shock for all of Kashmir when he passed away. But we are all thankful to the coach, staff, and co-owners for taking the initiative to keep the club running. So far, we have not faced any issues, and hats off to them for continuing the work in the same fashion,” he said.

As everyone now looks forward to the upcoming 2024–25 season in a few months, Hammad wants to carry forward the progress he’s made since his return from injury.

“Of course, like everyone, I want to play at higher levels. I want to play in the ISL and represent India one day. But right now, I need to keep improving my game, and rectifying my mistakes. I need to raise my level with every game,” said Hammad.

00:49 IST, April 20th 2024