Lenny Rodrigues: The answer to India's midfield muddle | ISL 2019-20 (Exclusive)
- Lenny Rodrigues has been perhaps the best Indian central midfielder over the course of the 2019-20 season of the ISL.
Back in November 2019, India clashed swords with Afghanistan and Oman as they looked to resurrect a slightly faltering 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign. However, akin to many a time previously, the Blue Tigers, despite Igor Stimac’s insistence on a free-flowing brand of football, failed to assert themselves adequately, meaning that they painted a dreary and dull picture, a portrait that has become frequently synonymous with Indian football over the years.
Across both fixtures, the Indians looked devoid of ideas in the middle third as the game often passed their midfielders by. In the process, they favoured the long-ball strategy that Stimac seemed hell-bent on tweaking.
Consequently, one couldn’t help but wonder if the personnel the Croatian had at his disposal were indeed suitable for the kind of football he wanted to deploy. To put things into further perspective, Stimac decided to utilize Brandon Fernandes in a much deeper role, in order to accord the side the requisite passing guile in midfield.
And, that, made the exclusion of a certain Lenny Rodrigues even more puzzling.
A veteran in the Indian domestic scene, the lanky midfielder has blended efficiency and extravagance superbly throughout his career. Yet, somehow, he has found himself marginalized from the national team set-up over the past couple of years.
In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Lenny opened up on how he felt after being overlooked incessantly. He said,
I am a little surprised that I have not been selected recently. I have played for three years for the national team and I am eager to represent India again. I also feel that I am ready to compete with all the younger midfielders coming through and playing for the nation still remains a goal.
Quite often, in football, players on the wrong side of 30 are looked upon as slight liabilities, considering a perceived lack of fitness and an inability to cover each blade of grass on the pitch. However, Lenny, courtesy his displays, has swatted aside all those notions, and he’s done so with significant aplomb.
In the 2019-20 term, the midfielder has racked up 609 passes across 12 games, which incidentally, is the 2nd highest number an Indian has conjured. Even on the defensive front, the former Bengaluru FC midfielder has distinguished himself, ranking 5th and 13th overall in interceptions and tackles respectively.
Furthermore, his tally of 48 tackles is only bettered by Brandon and Rowllin Borges, players that are regular fixtures in the national outfit.
Additionally, Lenny, under the stewardship of Albert Roca and Sergio Lobera, has honed his ball-playing skills exceptionally, meaning that he is well-equipped to implement Stimac’s philosophy of keeping possession, exploiting spaces in midfield and providing teammates with ample passing avenues. On his stints with Bengaluru FC and FC Goa, he quipped,
Both Albert Roca and Sergio Lobera are great coaches and I’ve learnt a lot from them. They have similar ideas and always ask us to trust the ideals and continue with that. At Goa, we like to have slightly more possession and it is always better to play with the ball. Or else, you have to run a lot.
Thus, for the neutral, his recurring omission certainly causes more than a furrowed brow or two, especially considering his style of football dovetails with what Stimac has been preaching.
Yet, Lenny, despite being a tad disappointed, doesn’t like to wander into a utopian world and instead tries to concentrate on the tasks at hand, which also spells the same as an ISL triumph. Remarking on the same, he opined,
I just want to win the ISL anyhow. I have lost two finals in a row and I want to get that trophy this year. My team and I have been working very hard and we are concentrating on finishing in top spot first and then looking for the title. Personally, I have won everything in Indian football, apart from the ISL. So, yeah, that remains a dream.
However, in consonance with his personality, he stressed that while an ISL conquest remained the ultimate objective, his side was acutely aware of the immediate challenge ATK would pose at the Salt Lake Stadium on Saturday. He commented,
ATK have a strong side from back to front. But, we are also a very good side and I am expecting a good match on the 18th. We respect them as a team but we want to come away with three points.
Thus, in a rather methodical manner, Lenny had chalked out the aspects that enable him to act as the ideal box-to-box midfielder whereas he also outlined his intentions of ending his ISL drought.
Most importantly though, despite being side-lined considerably, he talked vividly on the elements he felt would get him back into the reckoning and ultimately, help him realize his dream of representing the country again.
While each passing India encounter just seems to highlight the Lenny-shaped void existing in the team, it would be a space that would most definitely be filled, provided the midfielder can add an ISL crown to his glittering trophy cabinet.
And, perhaps, that would allow Lenny to kill two desirable birds with one stone, wouldn’t it?Published 17 Jan 2020, 14:17 IST