Days away from end of the year, Kerala Blasters marquee and central defender Aaron Hughes is looking back at 2016 in wonder. “The Euros were the pinnacle of my career,” said the 37-year-old in Kochi on Saturday. Hughes is the only marquee in Indian Super League history who continues to play for the national team.
“I always wanted to experience this, to be involved at that level with that quality of players. The only thing it would compete with probably is getting to the World Cup. And the year hasn’t finished too badly because if we are sat here on the eve of a final, it must have been good. I now want to make the most of it. The biggest thing at the moment is tomorrow,” said Hughes, Northern Ireland’s most capped outfield player whose 103 caps is only second after goalkeeper Pat Jennings.
Helder Postiga didn’t go to the Euros but for the Atletico de Kolkata (ATK) marquee too, the year hasn’t been all that bad. He recovered from an injury sustained in the first match of ISL2 and played in the Primeira Liga in Portugal before returning to help ATK make the final of ISL3. Asked where he would put the ISL in a career that has seen him play for top clubs and win a Champions League medal, Postiga, 34, said: “I live in the present. The most important thing in players’ lives are trophies. I have enjoyed this league so much. I hope to take home nice memories tomorrow.”
It was against Kerala Blasters that Postiga was injured this time. “A lot has changed since. Kerala Blasters have changed a lot with players from Bengaluru FC joining the squad. I think they defend really well as a team and I am not saying this because he (Hughes) is sitting next to me. Tomorrow will be a big match between two deserving teams,” said Postiga.
A big match all right but one Atletico de Kolkata coach Jose Molina said he hopes would end in 90 minutes and a little more on Sunday. “To be honest, I hope it (the ISL3 final) doesn’t go into extra-time and beyond. But if it does, we will be ready.”
Molina avoided a direct reply to whether he thought ATK were the most consistent team of ISL 3 but said: “We live by results and we lost only twice and were almost always in the top four. When you don’t lose, you win the respect of your rivals.”
Having iterated his respect for Molina for making nine changes in a semi-final, Kerala Blasters’ coach Steve Coppell said going into the final, the past doesn’t matter. Nor the fact that Kerala Blasters have had a day less to recover. “Tomorrow, it’s just one game in isolation, 90 minutes of a unique occasion. One where we hope no one remembers the name of the referee,” said Coppell.