This is a series for identifying the emerging players of the seventh edition of the Indian Super League. The players chosen are either aged under 23 or are playing their maiden or the second season in the Indian Super League.
Asish Rai has been one of the most improved players for Hyderabad FC compared to last season. Asish Rai is a youth product of Pune FC Academy, which was later on bought by FC Pune City. The Sikkimese has played for the Indian Arrows for two years, he has played 29 games for the Arrows from 2017-19.
He went back to the reserves team of FC Pune City, and when the club was dissolved in the summer of 2019, Hyderabad FC signed him for their first team. The debut season of Hyderabad FC was a devastating one for the club and the fans, most of the Indian players didn’t play in their preferred position and one of them was Asish Rai. He played as a left-back, right-back and on the wings, too.
This has affected all the players, their skills and the way they played the beautiful game. Asish Rai has played 14 games for Hyderabad FC in the 2019-20 season. Due to the unstableness in the squad, tactics and many other factors, he wasn’t able to perform up to the mark and couldn’t give his best, but the fans have always been there for him, chanting and supporting him before and after the games.
The 22-year-old didn’t disappoint his fans, his club and his coach this season. He signed a three-year extension with the club after last season, his contract with Hyderabad FC ends in May 2023. So, the right-back might be staying with the club for two more seasons.
Asish Rai played 29 games when he was with the Arrows and that says everything about him, he has been consistent even during the time he played for Indian Arrows. Even now he has got his placed fixed into the defence of Hyderabad FC, he has played in all the games this season for Hyderabad FC, and he has given two assists.
Ashish Rai has caused plenty of problems for every club this season. As a defender, he has 51 interceptions to his name, higher than any other Hyderabad FC player this season and he has a whopping number of 59 clearances. His defending stats are just enough to make a forward worry before facing him but the amount of effort the Sikkimese full-back puts into the attack of his team is unmeasurable.
Asish Rai is one of the most disciplined defenders in the league right now. He has got only one yellow card in 18 games which is remarkable for a 22-year-old defender who constantly runs up and down the field for 90 minutes delivering accurate crosses into the box to the forwards of his team.
Lots of times this season, the commentators and experts were fascinated by the way he was coordinating in the right flank with the midfielders and forwards of Hyderabad FC like Liston Colaco, Mohammad Yasir, Aridane Santana and Joel Chianese.
Asish Rai has tremendous energy. There have been several situations when Hyderabad FC was attacking and they lost the ball in the right flank and there was no one there in the back to defend. Then Asish Rai ran all the way back to his position and cleared the ball. This has astonished everyone, the way the 22-year-old sprints right back to his position covering so many yards is not something which we see every day in Indian football.
The Indian football team needs good ball-playing players and Asish Rai is one of the best ball-playing full-backs in this league, he has more than 700 passes and 1200 touches (based on the data after HFC vs KBFC) till now. He is indeed one of the best full-backs in the league right now and this is the reason why the national team coach Igor Štimac praised him in a recent interview.
Even Pradhyum Reddy the ex-FC Pune City Technical Director said he is a player with a lot of potentials. He knew Asish Rai needed game time. So, FC Pune City sent him on loan to Indian Arrows.
“We had Asish Rai in our FC Pune City academy in 2017, he was identified as one of the young players who had so much potential. We needed to make sure to keep hold of him. We had some experienced players in the right-back position already, so, we felt keeping him around with the first team environment would have hampered his chance of development, so we loaned out a couple of players to Indian Arrows. Asish Rai was one of them along with Sahil Panwar and Abhishek Halder.
“The game time which he got in Indian Arrows benefitted him. When he was in the ISL last season with Hyderabad FC, he struggled in that team which weren’t performing better, couldn’t keep clean sheets, but at the end of the season, they got a win.
“All the games which he played last season were a part of the development process, they helped him mature as a player, that is why you can see the benefits now. He looks a lot more mature now. Since those days from 2014, he probably would have got 40 games to his name and that is what you need to do in developing the youth players.”
Asish Rai’s performance speaks everything about his future. He will, undoubtedly, get into the national team and do wonders. With the national team coach Igor Štimac being impressed by him, it is only a matter of time till we see Asish Rai making his debut for the Blue Tigers.