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Saturday, Aug 24, 2019

Exclusive Interview: ISL at a higher level than I-League, says Indian football’s ‘Emerging Player’ Anirudh Thapa

Anirudh Thapa, who won the AIFF Emerging Player of the Year award, believes the ISL is at a higher level than I-League as far as professionalism is concerned.

football Updated: Jul 30, 2018 13:32 IST
Sayan Ghosh
Sayan Ghosh
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Anirudh Thapa won the Indian Super League and the Intercontinental Cup title this year.
Anirudh Thapa won the Indian Super League and the Intercontinental Cup title this year.(AIFF)

Indian football team midfielder Anirudh Thapa is no stranger to both the Indian Super League (ISL) and the I-League. The 20-year old was a part of I-League side Minerva Punjab FC in the 2016-17 season and one year later, he lifted the ISL trophy with Chennaiyin FC.

In the past couple of years, it has become a common practice to compare the two top-flight competitions in Indian football but Thapa believes that the ISL is at a much higher level than its more traditional counterpart when it comes to professionalism.

“When I came to ISL, it was like a dream come true for me. It is at a higher level than the I-League and from the foreigners to the Indian footballers, everyone is extremely professional. So, it was a whole new experience for me,” Thapa said in an exclusive interview.

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The youngster, who won the 2017 AIFF Emerging Player of the Year award, was picked by Marco Materazzi to join the Chennaiyin FC ranks in 2016, but it was under his successor - John Gregory - that Thapa found success.

Gregory made him an integral part of the midfield and Thapa believes that the English coach has played a huge role in improving him as a footballer.

“The coach (Gregory) saw me in the practice sessions and he always encouraged me to improve my game. With so many established midfielders in the squad - both national and international, I never expected to find a place in the starting XI. But, he handed me the responsibility and that was a huge boost for me,” he said.

The youngster flourished during the 2017-18 season and under Gregory, Thapa quickly became a regular in the Chennaiyin FC starting XI. He played 16 matches for the eventual ISL champions and scored two goals, including one in the semifinal play-off against FC Goa.

The performances also caught the eye of national team head coach Stephen Constantine who included him in the squad for the Intercontinental Cup earlier this year. The youngster looked quite impressive in the tournament and ended up playing in three out of the four matches in the competition including the final.

Anirudh Thapa  celebrates after scoring for Chennaiyin FC against FC Goa in ISL 2017-18.
Anirudh Thapa celebrates after scoring for Chennaiyin FC against FC Goa in ISL 2017-18. ( ISL / SPORTZPICS )

When asked about his experience with the Indian football team, Thapa said that he was quite surprised after he came to know about his selection considering Constantine’s preference of playing physically imposing players. But, he was quick to thank the coach for the opportunity and said that his next goal is to cement his place in the national team ahead of the AFC Asian Cup in 2019.

“(Stephen) Constantine generally prefers physically big players in the midfield and I was probably the only one who did not fit the bill. But, I would like to thank him that he gave me the opportunity to play for the country and that was probably the most memorable moment of my career till now.”

“But, I cannot take anything for granted and the competition in midfield is going to be tough. There are a number of talented players in the team who are in contention and I will have to train hard and perform to find a place in the final squad for the Asian Championships,” the youngster signed off.

First Published: Jul 30, 2018 11:06 IST

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