Indian Super League (ISL) side Jamshedpur FC look like one of the most balanced sides on paper. With comprehensive scouting and management of finances, the Red Miners have put up a team that is surely in the fray to qualify for the semi-finals in the 2020-21 season. English central defender Peter Hartley is one of the many big names the Tata Steel-owned football club have signed.
Peter Hartley spoke exclusively to Sportskeeda about the coronavirus lockdown, his playing journey, English and Scottish football, the prospects of the Indian Super League and his favourite playing memories.
The coronavirus pandemic had forced the world of sports to take a long break and has led to many financial complications. When asked about the maintenance of individual fitness amid the global health crisis and the effects it has had on English football in terms of finances and administration, Peter Hartley said:
"The lockdown has been difficult. It is important, you keep your mind stimulated, which is something I have managed to do. It has affected English football drastically with regards to the lower leagues. Some clubs just do not have the finances they had prior to lockdown and especially without fans attending games.
"This could be a fantastic opportunity to develop youth players at all levels in England. With clubs not being able to afford to recruit from outside the club, means they will have to recruit within."
Peter Hartley spent the majority of his playing career in the lower leagues of English football. The sturdy defender took us down memory lane and spoke about his playing journey, right from his youth football days:
"My playing journey started at Middlesbrough academy as an under-9. Then, I went on to represent Sunderland from the under-12’s, all the way to first team level. An opportunity, then came for me to sign for my home town club, Hartlepool United in League one at the time. This was something which I could not turn down. I went on to captain them as a 23-year-old. I have been fortunate enough that football has allowed me to see and live in all parts of England from the North East to the South West, London and then on to Scotland."
The Englishman penned his first professional contract with English League side Sunderland AFC in the 2006-07 season. After staying in the reserves, he moved to his hometown club, Hartlepool United.
Sunderland AFC have since slipped from the Premier League and now play in the League One. When asked if the Black Cats can bounce back and earn promotion to the English top flight, Peter Hartley said:
"Sunderland is a far cry from the club I left in 2009/2010 season. But I believe with the passion of the fans in that city and the managerial team currently in charge it is only a matter of time before they move up the tiers to once again in English football."
Peter Hartley switched from the English football league system for the first time and went to Motherwell in Scotland on loan before entering into a permanent contract with the Steelmen in the 2017-18 season. Explaining the general differences between English and Scottish football, he said:
"Motherwell was a fantastic period in my career. A key difference I noticed whilst being there was the connection between the fans and players, it was amazing. Scottish people in general are good hearted people that try to help you in anyway they can. I really enjoyed my time in Scottish football."
Peter Hartley has scored 27 goals despite being a centre-back. His height allows him to score from aerial balls and corners. He revealed that his focus when it comes to goalscoring is usually on set-pieces:
"I have scored quite a few goals taking into account the position I play. I can only really play centre half and in the middle or on the left of a 3 at the back. But I am aggressive from set pieces which is why I have been lucky enough to score a few goals."
'The Indian Super league is a league I have always watched with a keen eye': Peter Hartley
The Indian Super League is certainly an unusual switch for a player of the calibre of Peter Hartley. However, the defender was all praise for the Indian top division and said:
"The Indian Super league is a league I have always watched with a keen eye. Especially with one of my friends making the move to ATK from Motherwell last season (Carl McHugh). Honestly, after speaking to the manager (Owen Coyle) it was an easy decision to make."
Peter Hartley has been pursued by clubs across Europe, Asia and the Americas during the transfer window. However, it was ISL side Jamshedpur FC which managed to secure his coveted signature.
Peter Hartley expressed his excitement when asked about the reason why he chose India:
"I had spoken to a lot of clubs both in England and in the Scottish Premier League during the lockdown and the off season. But the opportunity to make something special happen at Jamshedpur and the chance to bring my experience to help the young Indian professionals develop is something that excites me."
The esteemed Tata Football Academy in Jamshedpur has produced hundreds of top-notch Indian players who went on to represent India at the international level for decades.
Peter Hartley is looking forward to working with the talented youngsters at the Tata Football Academy:
"I am aware of the Tata Football Academy and the fantastic players it develops. I am extremely excited to work alongside the next generation and help them develop and grow the correct mentality to have longevity in this great game."
The Indian Super League was recognised as the top division of the country in the 2019-20 season. This now allows ISL teams to play in the AFC Champions League. When asked about the impact of the recognition from the continental football association, Peter Hartley said:
"I am hoping it helps the ISL financially. The main factor is the opportunity for the best teams to test themselves against foreign opposition."
The 2020-21 ISL season will be played behind closed doors in Goa. Games in Europe are also being held behind closed doors.
Peter Hartley highlighted the emotional impact of the current situation on players:
'It massively impacts the players. It is no secret fans provide the atmosphere in stadiums and the passion of the support runs through the veins of the players on the pitch. But we are living through a global pandemic, so health and safety of others paramount are vitally important.'
Peter Hartley is one of the several big signings made in the Indian Super League 2020-21 season. When asked about the expectations from his debut season in India, he said:
"I expect the ISL to be very competitive. I hold very high expectations on myself regardless of the league I am playing in. We will do everything as a team to achieve our goals."
Peter Hartley also has coaching plans after he hangs up his boots in the near future:
"Yes. Football for me is my passion. Not a job. I recently went to Belfast to do my UEFA B and A coaching licence, a month ago. So coaching is definitely something I want to do in the future."
Peter Hartley has featured in some important cup games in England as well as league games in Scotland. When asked about his favourite playing memories, he said:
"I have many. Playing in the Scottish Cup finals, playing at Wembley for Plymouth Argyle, and captaining my home town club at a fairly young age are something no one can take away from me."Published 25 Sep 2020, 10:06 IST