Hyderabad FC came agonizingly close to making it to the top-four in the Indian Super League (ISL) for the very first time in their short club history. The Nizams fell short of two points after a draw in their final league game with FC Goa and finished fifth in the standings.
Manolo Marquez's Hyderabad FC are an epitome of youth and experience. Hyderabad FC boast a large pool of young and prospective Indians in the squad. The likes of Akash Mishra, Hitesh Sharma, Liston Colaco, Asish Rai, Rohit Danu and Mohammad Yasir have punched above their weight in the 2020-21 season.
Sportskeeda spoke exclusively with Hyderabad FC's Hitesh Sharma about his playing career so far, his personal plans and his stay at the club. Here are the excerpts:
Q. Tell us about your playing journey right from the Chandigarh Football Academy to Hyderabad FC.
HS: I started playing football when I was in school under Tapas, then I moved to Chandigarh Football Academy, where I spent four years under Tajinder Singh and Harjinder Singh, where I learnt a lot. Then I joined the Tata Football Academy in 2012, which was a big step in my career.
I then started playing for Mumbai FC, who recognized my ability and gave me a chance. After a couple of years there, I was drafted to ATK where I spent more than two seasons at that club. After my stint with the club, I had trouble finding a new club. I worked really hard but an ankle injury meant that I went into the season without a club.
Despite my niggle, Hyderabad FC showed trust in my abilities and took me on board in January 2020. Ever since, I have been really happy with my new club and I hope that I can continue this good work for the next few years.
Q. How different was the approach in developing players at the Chandigarh Football Academy and Tata Football Academy?
HS: The CFA is one of the best academies in India. But it is for players who are at a learning stage. They help you work on the basics, improve every aspect of your game and make you ready for professional football.
TFA was like taking the next step. I learned how to handle pressure and how to play in certain situations as they gave me enough exposure to improve as a player. Both these academies have produced some fine footballers in the past and I am really proud to have learnt my trade there.
Q. What role did Mumbai FC play in your player development?
HS: My time with Mumbai FC was really important. For me, it was like stepping out of my house, moving away from my comfort zone. Joining Mumbai FC was a different experience for me and I cannot put into words how much they have helped me.
It was probably the best place I could have been at, at that time of my career and they played a huge role in shaping my career.
Q. Your move to ATK after Mumbai FC has shaped your ISL career. How different was playing in the ISL from the I-League?
HS: To be honest, I never really thought about these things in my career. I always felt that I needed to work harder and develop my skills as a player before joining a big league, or a big club. So, when I joined ATK, all I wanted to do was learn.
There were a lot of superb players like Robbie Keane, Eugeneson Lyngdoh and others I could learn from and that is what I was most excited about.
I was lucky to get my chances there and of course, I wanted to perform and prove myself but what was important for me was to learn and improve, as much as I could have.
Q. Hyderabad FC play quick and have a budding Indian roster. What do you think of the club’s philosophy?
HS: Hyderabad FC has a really good support staff. From recruiting players to getting the right coaching staff, everyone higher up the hierarchy is pretty much involved and that helps every player.
From what I have seen, very few clubs have a philosophy of their own. What is important is the fact that everyone at Hyderabad FC want young players like me to improve and get their chances and that has given us a lot of confidence to perform at the highest stage in India.
Q. What role do Manolo Marquez and Thangboi Singto play for the development of a young player like you?
HS: Every coach plays a really important role in one’s career. Irrespective of how it affects you as a player, you always get to learn something from coaches like Thangboi sir or Manolo.
For me, playing under a Spanish coach for the first time, I have learnt a bit of everything. I will always be thankful to them for helping me in an important phase of my career.
Q. What type of role are you assigned to play generally by Manolo Marquez in the midfield?
HS: The best part about our head coach is the fact that he wants us to play to our strengths. There is no particular role assigned to players in our team. I try to adapt myself to the needs of every game.
You need to play a different role against tougher opponents like ATKMB or MCFC and have a different role against teams that are happy to sit back and defend.
Manolo always has plans for different games and we try to stick to them and that has been our real strength so far this season.
Q. What has been the most memorable game for you so far in your career?
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HS: I've had a lot of memorable games this season that will stay with me throughout my life. But the first game of the season against Odisha was really memorable. I didn't play a professional game of football for over a year before that game and I was really happy that I got a chance and played a part in our 1-0 win.