In 2015, when Gift Raikhan led Pune FC out at the Barasat stadium to face East Bengal in what turned out to be the final top flight game for the Pune outfit, he was fairly an unknown quantity.
NEROCA manager Gift Raikhan (L) during his team's press conference.
His team came from a goal down to beat East Bengal and recorded a famous win. But, even that rare success for the Pune side in Kolkata didn't do Raikhan much good in terms of fame.
However, three years down the line, the Manipuri coach " now a full-time coach of an I-League club " has a chance of leading a club non-existent on the map of Indian football to national glory. His task is to beat East Bengal at their own backyard.
What goes around comes around, and in case of Raikhan, it couldn't be more true.
"In 2015, I had the pleasure of being the head coach for the Pune FC's final game. Coincidentally it was against East Bengal in Kolkata and we won it. That was a lucky day for me. From that point I started to grow in confidence and people started knowing me. It was the turning point of my career," recalled the NEROCA manager.
"I hope tomorrow will be another lucky day for me," he wished.
Raikhan joined NEROCA after Pune FC decided to shut down their first team operations in 2015. Since then, he successfully guided the team to promotion from second division. In NEROCA's debut season in the I-League this year, he now has them with a chance of winning the title on the final day of the season.
This would have been touted as the greatest fairytale in Indian football's history had Aizawl not won the I-League coming through similar circumstances last year. But NEROCA and Raikhan's achievements are no less creditable.
"I want to be a champion. I don't know if I will be one tomorrow, but I certainly want to be a champion. As a young coach it means a lot to me," Raikhan expressed at the pre-match press conference.
"I have worked very hard to bring the club here from the second division. It means so much to the people of Manipur who I'm sure are very excited about the prospect of us winning the I-League," he added.
NEROCA looked dead and berried when they lost to Mohun Bagan last month, but results in the other games meant they will go into the final day with the best chance to win the league after leaders Minerva.
"We thought we had lost it after the defeat against Mohun Bagan, our morale went down a bit. But after seeing the results that kept us alive, we received a boost. There was a spring in our steps. There was a very good atmosphere in training as well," revealed the Manipuri coach.
"For a new club like us to be here at this stage, we are very happy. Not only us, all the members at NEROCA and the entire state of Manipur is very excited. So we are going to enjoy this moment," Raikhan said.
While his first trip to Kolkata as manager to face East Bengal saw his career take off for good, his second has the potential to put him among the very elite.
Gift Raikhan may or may not have his lucky day in Kolkata again, NEROCA's story may or may not have a fairytale ending like Aizawl, but whatever the result, Raikhan won't leave Kolkata as an unknown quantity