Anirudh Thapa has played an integral part in Chennaiyin FC‘s success over the years, and the club has also shown immense faith in the youngster as they named him as their new captain for the upcoming season, a sign of their confidence in him.
A product of the AIFF Elite Academy, Thapa has played 71 matches for Chennaiyin since joining them at the age of 18 and has improved significantly since then. He also served as Chennaiyin FC’s vice-captain last season. Thapa made his international debut in 2017 and he has since made 25 appearances for the national team. He is also a recipient of the esteemed AIFF Men’s Emerging Footballer Of The Year award, winning it twice in 2018 and 2020.
Such is the ceiling of Thapa that captain Sunil Chhetri also pins his hopes of Indian football’s future on the 23-year-old and has high expectations from the youngster, “If you talk of goal scorers in future, I will put my money on Thapa.”
In an interaction with IFTWC, Thapa shared his thoughts on the new season, Chennai’s trophy drought, his contract and much more.
How has the off season been and what are your expectations going into the new season?
“We all are excited for the new season to start but the sad part is that we are again in a bubble. But we are excited for the season and we want to give our best. Hopefully this season will not be something like the last one. We want to be in the top four and everyone is working for that.
After the end of last season, we had international matches schedule every 15 days or a month.”
“I was with the national team mostly and in between when I was not there I went to Chandigarh to my coach Surendra sir. I trained with him for a few days then then I was back with the national team. So mostly I spent my time with the national team. There were the qualifiers and the SAFF Cup was around so I was trying to stay fit.”
You have been in the bio bubble last year and you will be playing in the same grounds in Goa and you are used to them. So will the conditions be a bit easier for you now?
“I don’t think so. It is obviously very hard to stay in the bio bubble. It is not easy but yes, we are used to it. We know how the feeling is now. So it won’t be same as last year, but yes, it will be difficult.”
Although you are only 23, your importance in the dressing room has grown enormously over the past few seasons and now you are a part of the leadership group as well. Do you enjoy the added responsibilities that comes with the new role?
“I think not much has changed for me after being appointed the captain. I have been here for six years now and so it’s not hard to understand what the club wants. They want to win. And so do I. But as captain, there is an added responsibility. To grow up a little bit faster. I will still be a boy who loves football but I will also ensure that the team stays together on and off the field. And I will always protect my team and my players.”
“I enjoy this new challenge as I believe that it will only make me a better player. It will help me grow and in the coming years, it will help me grow as a person as well. So I am enjoying every bit of it.”
The team has already played a couple of friendly matches under the new coach, so you must already have a sense of his tactics and approach. Has it been difficult to adjust to this brand-new system and how different is it from that of Csaba Laszlo?
“No, it’s not difficult because I have played under many coaches and you know more or less everyone is same. It is just that they have a different approach to the game. Adjusting to the new tactics is not difficult. It is just that what he is asking us to do on the field and he has given us some rules individually. So we will try and do that and with that so that we can get the results. We need to go with the plan and we need to try and execute it well.”
What message did Bosko Bandovic have for you personally this season? Is there something specific that the coach wants from you?
“Bosko firstly told me that he has seen me play. He has seen my matches and he thinks that I can improve, specially in the attacking part. He thinks I can score more goals and I am working with him on that. I can be more effective upfront and I will try and score or assist in whichever way I can to help the team.”
Sunil Chhetri said in a recent interview that he thinks that you are someone who can replace him in terms of scoring and can play as a forward. What are your thoughts on this?
“My preferred position is midfield. I don’t feel like someone who wants to score a goal or I am the one who should be scoring a goal. It’s nothing like that. It’s just that I want to help my team to win games. And what Sunil bhai said is is that I can score goals and yes I can do the same. I can play in different positions like I played as a winger in the SAFF Championship. I played as No.10, No.6 and also No.8, so playing in different positions is not a problem for me. All I want is to win games. And if I can then I will also score goals.”
During the transfer window ATK Mohun Bagan was desperate to get you and there were some reports that East Bengal were also interested. Why did you stick with Chennaiyin FC?
“I have a year left in my contract so I am just focused on this season and after this I will think about what offers I have in my hands.”
How much of a miss are the fans in the stadiums?
“I am missing them badly because you know, I want to see them again. I want to hear them cheering and chanting. It is a difficult feeling when we do not have fans in the stadium. Everyone in the team is missing them because their presence gives us an added advantage. Hopefully this will end soon and we will have them back.”
The last three seasons have been somewhat dry for Chennaiyin in terms of trophies. Why do you think the team has faltered in this regard and what have they been lacking?
“Everyone wants to win and we all tried our best but last season there were many injury concerns. Many of us got injured, I got injured in the fourth game and then Rafa got injured. So these injuries, you know, it is something that doesn’t help the team to win titles because if you have injury concerns in every game, if a player is missing games then the balance becomes messed up. We gave our best last season, we kept the positivity up in the team.”
“It helped us reach the finals in 2020, but somehow we couldn’t win so it’s nothing like that. Everyone wants to give their hundred percent, everyone wants to win but we need the luck to do the same. Because sometimes what we have given on the field does not matter because the other team is also, you know, there to win. They won’t give us goals and points easily.”
Injuries are a concern due to the long off season so do you think there should be more matches in the Indian football calendar?
“Obviously we need more matches so that we can stay fit and we can gain more experience. We can learn a lot by playing matches because we try different things during the games. We will be more fitter and not just stay at home and do nothing. It is a big thing that we are lacking right now and hopefully this will get resolved soon. If we have more matches, it will benefit everyone, specially the domestic players.”
In 2017, Gregory termed you as the next big thing in Indian Football and many players have also said the same. Is it an added pressure or do you enjoy the remarks?
“I obviously enjoy the compliments because they have been said by some of the big names in Indian Football. They believe in me and they have faith in me and I think that I should enjoy it in every way. I am giving my best in whichever way I can and hopefully I can do my best which will be good for the team as well.”
Ever since joining Chennaiyin, Rafael Crivellaro has had a huge impact at the club, but injuries kept him on the sidelines for the entire second half of the last season. How would you describe the difference in the dressing room with Rafa and without Rafa and how much of a miss was he when sidelined due to the injury?
“Everyone knows how important Rafa is for the team and last season we missed him because of that injury. But now he is back and hopefully we can enjoy seeing him play. He will be one of the important players this season just like he was previously. All we want is that he should not be injured again so that the team does not once again get affected.”
If you were given an opportunity to spend a whole day talking football with- Ronaldo, Luka Modric or Frenkie de Jong. Whom will you chose and why?
“I will go with Ronaldo because I think for me, he is the best and he is the most hardworking player ever .He is one of those players who is always thinking about football and so that will be the player I will go with.”
Any message for the Chennaiyin FC fans out there?
“I just want to thank them for the support and for the love that they have shown us and I want them to keep supporting us. Obviously we miss you badly in the stands, but hopefully all this will end soon and we will see you back in the stadiums. But till then keep supporting us. We will give our best. Also. stay safe. We all know what is going on in Chennai. So just try and stay together and help each other.”
The fans will be looking forward to this upcoming season with the hope that Thapa can guide them to a top four finish and possibly help them grab the ISL shield and the trophy. Moreover, since he is in his last year of contract with the Super Machans, they would also wish for him to sign a new contract. Chennaiyin FC will play Hyderabad FC in their Indian Super League opener on 23rd November.
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