Rino Anto is one of the most prolific senior players in the Indian footballing circuit currently. Having represented stellar clubs such as Mohun Bagan, Kerela Blasters, Atletico de Kolkata (now ATK) and Bengaluru FC, he has surely attained a significant amount of experience throughout the course of his career.
Anto has won two I-League titles with Bengaluru in the 2013/14 and 2015/16 seasons respectively. He even won the Federation Cup twice in the last four years.
Thus, after a trophy-laden last four seasons, Anto returned to Bengaluru this season after a spell with Kerela Blasters. Here, in an exclusive chat, Anto answers various questions directed at him:
Q: Firstly, how does it feel to return back to Bengaluru FC this season?
It feels great to be back at Bengaluru FC. It’s a club where I made a lot of memories in my first stint and to be back among these players and training with the squad is something I am really happy to be able to do once again and I am looking forward to the season ahead.
Q: You have represented three different clubs in the ISL. Tell us what makes Bengaluru FC stand apart from the rest of them as such?
BFC stands apart for the amount of professionalism that goes into the way they do everything on and off the pitch. It really is any footballer’s dream to be a part of such a club, and I am especially happy for the B Team players who are lucky to have this experience at such a young age.
Q: Please provide some insight on how you ended up as a right-back initially in early days of your footballing career?
Initially, I played as a striker for the district and state teams. In the Kerala Sub-junior Championships, I had played as a striker and scored a few goals too. When I got selected for the trials at Tata Football Academy, I was selected because of how I played as a striker. Then, at the TFA, Mr. Ranjan Choudhary who was my coach, called me over during a training session and told me to try out in defence.
It was tough at first because I had never played at the back, but slowly it became easier and with the help of coach Carlton Chapman and the late Vijay Kumar sir, I learned how to cross the ball into dangerous areas, when to overlap and when to track back. Then in 2013, during my first season with BFC, Ashley Westwood spent a lot of time helping me in training and that’s when my performances at right-back started to get noticed.
Q: Do you think that the changing dynamics of the game ask the full-back to provide more attacking impetus than defensive discipline?
I think the changing dynamics of the game ask full-backs to provide more of both attacking impetus and defensive discipline. Every team in the country is getting better and every game has the potential to demand the best of both attack and defence. As a full-back, what’s important is to always be in sync with the winger ahead of you, and also understand where the opposition attackers are.
A full-back’s position is a lot more important than most because if we drift too far ahead, then it leaves the wings exposed, and if we are too far behind then it reduces the ability of our attack.
Q: As a considerably senior member of the squad, what advice do you give to the younger lads such as Rahul Bheke?
I don’t consider Rahul Bheke to be a younger member of the squad because, though he is younger in terms of age, he has played at the highest level for a number of seasons and over the course of last year, proved what a useful and versatile asset he can be to the team. I do guide some of the other boys such as Nishu and Gursimrat, who are still learning and looking to improve their game every day.
Q: Who are some of the most talented right-backs that you have come across or played against in your career so far?
When I was at the TFA, the India U-16 and U-19 team was performing really well and among the finest players in those teams was a right back named Habibur Rehman Mondal. He was my senior at TFA and I was lucky enough to play in the same team when I moved to Mohun Bagan.
He wasn’t a very skilful player, but he was really hard working and during my two years at Bagan, he used to guide me every day and tell me what to do. He played at centre-back too and a lot of what I know and am today is because of the years I spent in the same squad as him.
Q: Football is a tiresome, strenuous sport. How do you mentally prepare yourself ahead of big tournaments such as the ISL?
Football is definitely one of the most demanding sports in the world, but as players, we know how lucky we are to be doing something we love for a living. Preparing yourself ahead of big tournaments is tough, but apart from the preparations on the pitch, we all spend time with our families and relax, which is equally important. A lot of how we perform depends on whether we are in a good place mentally, and that comes from finding a right balance off the pitch.
Q: What are some of the most memorable matches that you have played in your career so far?
Among the most memorable matches in my career, I would definitely say the 2008-09 CFL final between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan. Over a lakh people came to watch and I got the chance to play and win the cup. Then in 2011, I was a part of the Salgaocar team that won the I-League, and that was an amazing season.
I’m fortunate to have played in many great games with BFC as well, like the AFC Cup semi-final against Johor, where we won 3-1 and became the first Indian club to make the final of an AFC tournament. That was an amazing feeling, to be a part of a team that made history and though the final didn’t go our way, even that game in Doha was a memorable one because we had been, as players, where no other Indians had been.
Q: How do you keep yourself physically fit when you are on the bench or suffer an injury as such?
Injuries are a part of the game. Every footballer would love to go throughout their careers without injuries, but that just isn’t possible. It’s a contact sport and you are bound to get hurt. Returning from injury makes you mentally strong, but then the struggle begins to make your way back into the team.
It’s a competitive environment and someone else will take your place and you have to work hard to get back into the team. The important thing is to make sure you are trying to keep yourself healthy by eating the right food and following the right routines that are given to you by the medical team.
Q: Lastly, how do you rate Bengaluru FC’s chances in the ISL this season?
I think we have a good squad and our team has been together for a while now because of the AFC Cup commitments earlier in the season. We’ve been training hard and had a good pre-season camp in Spain as well. Winning the first game was important and now it’s about building on that.
As our coach Carles Cuadrat always says to us, we want to be competitive in each game and see where it takes us. It’s a long season ahead and what’s important is to make sure that we do not lose momentum.