'It is important to enjoy the pressure,' says Chennaiyin FC's Anirudh Thapa ahead of ISL final against ATK | ISL 2019-20 (Exclusive)
- Anirudh has taken his game up several notches after Owen Coyle's arrival and looks primed to spearhead Chennaiyin's charge against ATK.
On the 29th of February 2020, Chennaiyin FC locked horns with FC Goa at Chennai, hoping to establish a sizeable cushion heading into the second leg at Fatorda, a week later. The Marina Machans, backed by the thousands in attendance, surged into the ascendancy when Lucian Goian made the net ripple in the 54th minute.
However, despite scoring the opening goal, one felt that the hosts required at least another strike to ensure that they put the first-leg beyond the Gaurs’ reach.
Minutes passed and the clock ticked beyond the hour mark as Chennaiyin’s endeavours refused to bear fruit. At that moment though, a certain Anirudh Thapa latched onto a pass on the edge of the penalty box and curled an unstoppable rocket at goal, well beyond the reach of Mohammad Nawaz.
Unsurprisingly, the Marina Arena broke into rapturous applause, especially because Anirudh, who has spent the entirety of his professional career, had proved to be the point of difference.
On the eve of the Marina Machans’ summit clash against ATK, Sportskeeda caught up with the Indian midfielder and unsurprisingly, he opened up on how special it felt to lead the club to another final, considering the innate connection he enjoys.
This is my first professional football club, so this is pretty much my family. The club, the fans and everyone associated with it - I consider them my own.
However, Anirudh’s tenure at the club hasn’t been smooth sailing, despite adorning his stint with an ISL crown in 2017-18. For large swathes of the previous campaign, Chennaiyin FC cut a frustrated figure and that lackadaisical run of form boiled over into the current season as well.
It was a difficult period for all of us, a disappointing campaign last time out. But football teaches you a lot, makes you experience all the highs and lows. And the lows make the highs we are experiencing right now the most valued and endearing.
In fact, at a stage in the 2019-20 term, the Marina Machans seemed doomed to finish in the lower trenches. Yet, akin to one of those sporting Guardian Angels, Owen Coyle rocked up in Chennai and weaved his magic wand, thereby catapulting the club into the higher echelons of the league.
More than anything else, it has been a tremendous comeback this season. The gaffer, Owen Coyle has done a remarkable job in turning things around and giving us the belief, we were lacking for more than a season.
Predictably, the arrival of the Irishman has also coincided with several players charting their own upward trajectory. Anirudh too has been among that set of footballers, with Coyle often raving about the class and the footballing intelligence of the Indian.
When quizzed on what particular aspects the former Bolton Wanderers coach helped the midfielder improve, he stated that the former accorded him the requisite belief and taught him how to utilize possession and movement better. Additionally, Anirudh opined that the attacking philosophy suited both his personal strengths and those of the side.
Despite being only 22, the Indian, come Saturday, would boast the rare distinction of appearing in two separate ISL finals, a feat that many illustrious names have failed to accomplish. However, he isn’t getting too carried away with that narrative, maintaining,
The win over BFC in the 2017-18 final was incredible but then that's now in the past. We need to focus on this final. And it will be a huge challenge but one we're looking for. Such games don't come too often. We need to enjoy the occasion but do the simple things right.
To put things into perspective, not many, if any, teams have specialized in focusing on the moment as much as the Marina Machans, especially considering they’ve found themselves in numerous situations wherein they stood just a poor result away from elimination. Yet, in sync with their coach, Chennaiyin FC have backed their abilities, even when it seemed easier to crumble.
To be fair, we played most of the season under pressure but we always had faith in our abilities. With every win, we gained confidence and momentum. We did everything right on and off the pitch and now we're here. It is also important to enjoy the pressure.
Thus, on the eve of the 2019-20 final, Anirudh seemed pretty relaxed as he chatted away vividly on the aspects that had been ironed out over the past few weeks and the facets that had made Chennaiyin FC successful during that period.
Most encouragingly though, akin to many a seasoned footballer, the Indian stressed that the worst the Marina Machans could do was dwell on the past. In fact, if the above were to come to fruition, the club would be in danger of undoing the herculean work they’ve undertaken since the turn of the year.
However, as is the norm, such levels of expectation also carry an unwanted burden aka pressure. Yet, knowing Anirudh, one reckons he might not be fretting too much over it.
After all, it is important to enjoy the pressure, isn’t it?Published 13 Mar 2020, 23:00 IST