A few days ago, Odisha FC succumbed to their third consecutive defeat in the ISL, meaning that they’d undone the head of steam they’d gathered prior to the sequence. In the process, fourth spot, which seemed within touching distance in January 2020, now felt elusive and solely dependent on the stars aligning themselves favourably.
Consequently, several were left wondering what the Juggernauts had in store next, considering they would now require nothing less than six points from their remaining two fixtures.
Predictably, Josep Gombau and his brand of expansive football too came under the scanner as many questioned if that style was primarily responsible for them coming unstuck, especially since their run of three losses had come against the likes of ATK, Bengaluru FC and FC Goa, sides that seem a cut above the rest in the ISL currently.
Yet, a couple of days before the game against NorthEast United, Vinit Rai, in an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, opined that such thoughts hadn’t even crossed his manager’s thinking, stating that the Juggernauts intended to stay true to their philosophy.
Our coach [Josep Gombau] gives us confidence to play our way, irrespective of the situation and he backs us to continue playing the way we have done in training. When the coach has this much confidence, it helps us also.
To put things into perspective, the aforementioned ideals have enabled Vinit to fit into Odisha FC’s scheme of things seamlessly. A ball-playing midfielder blessed with incredible athleticism, the Indian cherishes having the ball at his feet and falls into a rare category of midfielders who relishes being entrusted with the responsibility of fulfilling both his attacking and defensive roles.
I like playing under my manager because his style of football is very similar to how I like to play the game. I also want to have the ball and want to keep possession and play a lot of passes. I really admire Toni Kroos and I try to emulate whatever he does. I really enjoy my football here at Odisha.
However, akin to many an Indian footballer, the path to the top wasn’t rosy for Vinit, meaning that he had to grind his way across different clubs and endure disappointment at not featuring consistently.
In fact, he further elaborated that he never dreamt of carving a niche for himself as a professional footballer, even though he was handpicked by the Tata Football Academy during his formative years.
Yet, in consonance with the qualities Odisha FC preach, he stuck to his guns, never shied away from his attributes as a player and ultimately, it paid rich dividends. Recalling his earlier stints, he quipped,
When I was at other clubs like Dempo, Kerala Blasters etc, I didn’t have a proper game-plan. I wasn’t a regular starter for the clubs and I got only a handful of chances. But I trusted my abilities, kept working hard and I still remember the time of the ISL draft when Delhi Dynamos bid for me. And, I am very thankful for it.
Unsurprisingly, the midfielder profusely praised the now-defunct Delhi franchise for placing their trust in a relatively unknown commodity and helping him establish a foothold in the frenetic surroundings of the ISL.
And, though Vinit was initially accorded the requisite environment to acclimatise himself, he swiftly started enhancing his game, in order to become a regular starter at the Dynamos and later, Odisha FC.
Along the way, the Indian has picked up myriad nuances of the sport from his coaches and his teammates, with the midfielder picking out Marcos Tebar as a constant source of inspiration and of course, motivation.
Before I played with him, I used to follow his game and how he remained cool, calm and composed even in pressure situations. He handles the ball very well and that is something that I really like about his style. I am glad that I am sharing the pitch with him and being able to learn from him every day. Now, we have been playing together so regularly that we have great understanding. Sometimes, when I push forward, he covers for me and vice versa.
As a direct consequence, Vinit’s propensity to keep improving and make himself adaptable to different needs has enabled him to don the Indian blue on a few occasions, although the midfielder stressed that he aspired to do it more often.
Obviously, representing your country is a dream for each and every professional footballer out there. But I know I have to be patient and wait for my chances. And, for that to happen, I need to keep working hard. I believe there is no substitute for hard work.
Yet, despite harbouring ambitions of eventually becoming a frequent starter for the national side, Vinit also highlighted that it was imperative that those dreams took a back seat temporarily, especially as the Juggernauts prepare to welcome NorthEast United on the 14th of February 2020.
We know we have to win both remaining games and it is like a final for us. This season hasn’t been easy for the support staff etc, especially as we have shifted bases [from Delhi to Bhubaneshwar]. Now, we have an opportunity to put up a good performance in front of our fans, who have been coming out to support us every time and ensure that these nights are etched in the fans’ memories. But it is vital that we approach it like any other match and stick to our philosophy and play accordingly.
Thus, even at 22 years, Vinit had lucidly chalked out how he planned to handle the obstacles that were set to be thrown at him. More impressively though, throughout the conversation, he maintained that nothing could be achieved if one didn’t trust their own instincts and the ingredients that had made them successful.
And, rather inevitably, one couldn’t help but delve a little deeper into the chat and draw parallels between Vinit’s approach and Odisha FC’s modus operandi.
Both, despite the bumps on the road, constantly strive on achieving excellence with regards to the aspects that have been portrayed as their strengths, rather than hovering around needlessly and hoping for things to fall into place, or indeed, for stars to align themselves.
After all, that, above everything else, casts Vinit Rai and Odisha FC as a match in footballing heaven.Published 12 Feb 2020, 13:47 IST