ISL: 'I did my job' - Kattimani exorcises demons of present, and past, en route to ISL title

Laxmikant Kattimani was the hero for Hyderabad in ISL 2021-22 Final against Kerala Blasters Sandeep Shetty/Focus Sports/ ISL

"I did my job."

Bottom left corner: save. Bottom left corner: save, but a refereeing error means there's a retake. Bottom left corner again: save. Bottom right corner: goal. Bottom right corner: save.

"I did my job."

That's one way to understate it.

Laxmikant Kattimani's job is to stop goals from going into the goal net he's guarding. It's something he's always oscillated between being very good at, and a little terrible at during his career.

In the 68th minute of the final of the 2021-22 final of the ISL, he had one of his worst lapses. A tame shot from Rahul KP was allowed to dribble in below his hunched figure, a regulation save fumbled. Hyderabad 0 - 1 Kerala Blasters. He would have been forgiven if he had let his demons take over. It was at the Fatorda, after all, where he had one of his great chaotic matches - saving a penalty, scoring an own goal, slipping in injury time to gift Chennaiyin the ISL title in 2015 against his FC Goa.

A normal man would have crumbled. In front of him, Rahul KP stood with his arms outstretched, basking in the love of a crowd in which Blasters fans outnumbered their Hyderabad counterparts by about fifty times to one.

Behind Rahul, and the jubilant Blasters, almost every man in yellow was on the floor, heads in their hands. Joao Victor, his captain, came to him shouting encouragement, asking him to wipe his memory clean. Easier said than done, captain.

It had been a draining final... intense, brutally physical. And you make a basic error that could undo all the work everyone else had put in? Oh, man. Crumbling. His had already been a career that had more downs than ups, his mistakes sound-tracked to the laughter of a cruel world.

Laxmikant Kattimani is no normal man, though. Crumble is something he doesn't do, his mental strength, off the charts. He had painstakingly rebuilt a broken career over this season, and the last. Mistakes had been shelved. Consistency had come in.

He had kept three more clean-sheets in the last two seasons than he had over the previous six. In that period, he'd grown to become the best keeper in India. His coach Manolo Marquez has consistently called him the best and has always maintained he's the perfect fit for his style of football. That his bravery and calmness, his ability (and willingness) to play outside the box, helped his team play the way he wanted.

In the semifinal, this season, Kattimani had put in the performance of his career (till then), keeping the galacticos of ATK Mohun Bagan at bay, one particular save off Roy Krishna one of the greatest the league has seen. A mistake like this, no matter the stage, no matter the memories... it was not going to keep him down.

In front of him, his teammates roared on. The Blasters' early intensity had sapped the energy from their legs and Hyderabad kept pushing, kept pushing. This left gaps at the other end... In the 85th minute, a Blasters counter gave Adrian Luna a free-kick from Adrian Luna range. Kattimani pulled off a superb double save, diving low to save a typically dipping and swerving shot, before springing right back up to stop Marko Leskovic from tapping in the rebound. Three minutes later, Sahil Tavora larruped one from range, at a quite incredible angle, right into the top left corner. 88 minutes, Hyderabad 1 - 1 Kerala Blasters. Kattimani was still in it, as he always seems to be.

As the match descended into a chaotic period of extra time, most of the 22 running on pure adrenaline, mistakes slipping in to the outfield, the goalkeeper kept his calm, biding his time, making regulation saves, coming off his line (and his box) repeatedly to nip moves in the bud.

Then, penalties. Where the goalkeeper is the undisputed star, where the outfielders enter his kingdom.

Kattimani dominated those ten minutes like it's rarely seen in high-level sport. That penalty box was owned by him, everything that happened in the area seemed to happen to his command.

He saved the first penalty, from Marko Leskovic. He saved Nishu Kumar's first attempt, and his retaken second. He could do nothing about Ayush Adhikari's finish, but he returned to save Jeakson Singh's admittedly meek effort.... Four penalties, three saved. Incredible.

"I did my job."

No, no. The thing is, Laxmikant, very few people could have done what you did. Seven seasons after the nightmare of the Fatorda, he leaves his home ground a champion. Rarely have we seen a more worthy one.