Less than two months after making his Chennaiyin FC debut, young Syed Suhail Pasha learned that Bozidar Bandovic, who gave him his first minutes, had been sacked.
It seemed to be the nadir of what was a rough ISL 2021-22 season for the Marina Machans. The two-time champions eventually finished a lowly eighth in the standings with just 20 points from as many matches.
They also had to play under two coaches in Bandovic until February 2022 and interim boss Syed Sabir Pasha for the final few games.
Suhail Pasha, while speaking to Sportskeeda, noted how the coaching situation left a major impact on him. The 22-year-old revealed that he had endured difficult seasons during his two-year spell in the I-League with Chennai City FC, but this was very different. He said:
"This was the most important experience in my life. I've never experienced a coach being sacked even in the I-League when we have had difficult seasons. It was the first time in my life and was a bit complicated for me."
The Chennaiyin FC youngster added that the situation demanded changes from him on the pitch as well:
"The new coach chose a different formation so I had to adapt to that as well. It was difficult but I gained much more experience and played in different positions. My original position is striker but he made me play in attacking midfield."
Suhail Pasha was understandably caught in a difficult position and he acknowledged that there was a mental element to it as well:
"Yes [it was mentally challenging] for sure. In your position, there's star players like Mirlan Murzaev so how will you get a chance? I had to prepare myself and I just said, 'Think positive and always stay positive'."
After making his debut in December against Odisha FC, he went on to play seven more matches last season, with three of those coming under the new coach.
"He was my idol" - Syed Suhail Pasha on players he looked up to the most at Chennaiyin FC
While the on-field situation during ISL 2021-22 certainly wasn't very favorable, Suhail Pasha sounded cheerful about training with some of the best players. When asked who he looked up to within the Chennaiyin FC squad, the youngster noted that he couldn't name just one particular person. He said:
"There was no count (laughs), I looked up to almost every player. I was a fan of Jobby [Justin] bhai when I was a kid; [Anirudh] Thapa bhai, Edwin [Vanspaul] anna - when we were playing school games, he used to play ISL and I-League and was a local hero for us, Rahim [Ali] bhai."
"I used to talk the most with Narayan Das bhai. I really looked up to [Lallianzuala] Chhangte bhai. He was my idol and I had already seen him when he was playing under-18, under-19 and I was 14 years old. I just looked up to him from that age itself."
"I cannot mention just one particular name but I know I had to take the good points of each and every player and some had extraordinary points. I had to grab that for my experience."
Apart from playing alongside some of the best in the business, Suhail Pasha also went up against a few tremendous players during his maiden ISL campaign. When pressed to name a couple of players he struggled against, the youngster picked SC East Bengal's Adil Khan and Mumbai City FC's Ahmed Jahouh.
The Chennaiyin FC attacker said about Khan:
"When I played against East Bengal, my direct confrontation was against Adil Khan and he was physically too damn strong. I knew I didn't want to get physical with him and tried to beat him with pace. Physically, that guy was a monster for me."
He added about Jahouh:
"Against Mumbai, obviously Jahouh. That guy's passing level was from a different world."
"I had no experience playing with those guys" - Suhail Pasha on the difference between ISL and I-League
Suhail Pasha, as mentioned earlier, became more renowned in the Indian football community during his spell with Chennai City FC in the I-League. He joined the club from Chennaiyin FC 'B' and made 22 appearances for them before making it into the Marina Machans' senior side.
The 22-year-old spent more time in the I-League but believes it was a different kettle of fish in comparison to the ISL. His primary reason for this was the familiarity with players while plying his trade for Chennai City:
"In the I-League with Chennai City FC, I had more local players with me who I had played with in the Chennai and Tamil Nadu league and known for many years. We knew the same language and we got together very easily. It may have been different if I played for a different I-League side."
Once he entered the ISL, Pasha linked up with international stars and players he hadn't shared the field with. Regardless, he was determined to show what he was capable of:
"But when I came to the ISL, [I was with] players who were already in the Indian team. I had no experience playing with those guys so I had a feeling that I had to show 'I can do this,' so I had that excitement and confidence."
At 22, he is likely to get plenty of chances to prove himself at the top level and will hope to enjoy a more prominent role with Chennaiyin FC next season.