I have not seen a player as hungry to learn as Suresh – Erik Paartalu

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Erik Paartalu is one of the finest foreigners to grace the Indian Super League. Having played in various leagues such as the Australian A-League, the Korean K-League, the Chinese Super League as well as the Scottish League, the Australian came with a bag full of experience when he was signed by Bengaluru FC in the fourth season of the ISL. And in the three seasons he has featured in for the Blues, they have managed to qualify for the playoffs every single time and Paartalu’s contribution in all three has been pretty significant to say the least. Recently, Erik Paartalu signed a contract extension with Bengaluru FC which will keep him at the club for atleast two more years. IFTWC had an Instagram live session with him and this is what we managed to get out of the BIG E.

Speaking about how he started his career as a footballer, Erik said- ” I started playing when i was still pretty young. I used to play in the backyard with my father and my brother and tried to be just like them. As i got older, i started getting better at it and progressed through the representative teams. First it was the State level, then the National level and then I obviously tried to play overseas. When i was starting my career, Football in Australia was not as popular as it is now. And in order to make a career in football, you had to aim to reach Europe. I got to the United Kingdom at 19 and from there my career kicked off. It was difficult to become a footballer in Australia that time. Now, with the A-League coming in, it has certainly improved and there’s a lot more scope now for young kids in Australia to take up football as their career. “

Speaking about the experience of playing in different countries, Erik said- ” Every country is a little different to the other and as a player, one has to adjust everywhere he goes. It’s more of rolling with the punches and being about to reinvent your game wherever you go. I’ve played in seven countries, but when you are out there on the field, there’s only one language and that’s football. And as a foreign player, the pressure is even more as you are representing not just yourself but your whole country. You have to make sure that you are not just there to make up the numbers but to actually improve the standard of play. At some places, I made a difference and at some places I wasn’t able to as i learnt it the hard way. But that’s football for you.”

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Speaking about Indian Football, Erik said- “I’m really enjoying my time here in India. Great people, great club, great city and even better facilities. And probably that’s why I’ve been so successful over here. A lot of places in Asia can be quite cutthroat as people go there to earn good money but what they don’t realise is that it might not be the perfect destination for them. Asian Football as a whole is on the rise and India certainly has a part to play in it and in the future, Indian Football has every chance to be at the forefront of it. “

Talking about how he arrived at the ISL, Erik said- ” It was a mystery of things to be honest. I was out of contract after having a bad spell in South Korea and had to play in the Middle East in Qatar for a couple of months. After that, I took some time off from the game as I was drained physically as well as mentally. I had a couple of offers from Australian clubs but at that time, I really didn’t want to come back and it was then when I had a talk with my friend Cameron Watson, who was playing at Bengaluru that time and he told me quite a few things about the club, good honest reviews and that was basically the reason I ended up at Bengaluru, because before that, the image that I had of the ISL in my mind was that it’s a league where retired players come and ply their trade. You could look at Roberto Carlos, Nicolas Anelka and there were many like that. ISL was seen as a retirement ground for players and thus, Cameron’s advice was really important for me in making my decision as he had previously played at a good level and knew the circumstances in India better than me. Thus, relying on his information, I took up the new challenge and three years from that day, I’m really happy I took that decision. “

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BENGALURU COULDN’T EVEN MAKE IT TO THE GROUP STAGES OF THE AFC CUP LAST TIME AROUND

Speaking about the AFC Cup disappointment last season, Erik said- ” It was pretty disappointing the way we performed and there were a couple of reasons behind it. The very first one was the schedule. We had to play 9 games in about 28 days and with all the travelling and stuff, it made things ever harder. We knew what we were up against and tried our best to rotate the squad, the Coach possibly did the best he could have done in that situation but I think that the way our season finished, we should have pushed that little bit more. We let everyone down at the AFC Cup and we lacked a lot of leadership in both the games against Maziya as Sunil was injured. Probably, it was the mistake of the players and the club and we should have taken the competition more seriously. We should have put up a full strength team but that again comes down to the schedule we had. Secondly, the AFC Cup is becoming so much more competitive now if you compare it with five years back. Two years ago, we possibly put out our best ever squad in the AFC Cup, there was even Miku in there but we went to Turmekistan and were drubbed pretty badly. We were not close to their level and thus, we have a long way to go as far as the AFC Cup is concerned. Luckily for us, we are back in the competition again and this time, we would give it a real go.”

Comparing the ISL with the leagues in which he has played in, Erik said- ” It’s pretty difficult to compare the leagues. When i was playing in Korea, there was the 3+1 rule and many a time, they would put up only 2 foreigners on the pitch, whereas in India, we have the 5 foreigner rule. South Korea, for me was the most difficult league as it was just too physical. The guys are machines there, they are quick, they are skillful and they are everything you want in a footballer. We still have a long way to go before we can think of reaching their level. But at the same time, Indian Football has improved immensely in the three years I’ve been a part of. In my first year, after the first game, we could make out that we would be finishing at the top of the table. In the second year, there were around 6 teams competing, while last year, every team was just so hard to beat. All 10 teams were so strong and it was the most difficult season I’ve had in India. Thus, the ISL is improving with every passing year and the future looks bright for Indian Football.”

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Speaking about the 3+1 rule in the ISL, Erik said- ” Speaking about short term, it’s a straight NO. In the long term, it’s a thing to be considered. But yes, the +1 rule should be there. That’s something that should be made mandatory and every team must have an Asian player in their playing eleven. The +1 players that have come to the ISL have been pretty successfully too as it can he seen in my case as well as in the case of David Williams. And there’s no point in having 5 Spanish guys or 5 Brazilians in a team. Rather, the teams should have players for all over. It should be a mixed team. Speaking facts, no one in Spain or Brazil will watch Indian Football but if you get players from Japan or Iran, there would be more people watching the ISL from these countries. Add to that, if players from Japan and Iran come to play in the ISL, there would be a chance of Indian players going to their leagues as well. And that’s what you want ultimately. If your Suresh’s and Rathi’s can’t reach Europe, the next best destination for them is top Asian leagues like the J-LEAGUE. Thus, the ISL should now be focussing on getting more players from Asia as it will not only improve the game but it will also bring more viewership to the game. So i don’t really know if it’s the right time for implementing the 3+1 but the 4+1 rule should definitely be considered by the ISL Authorities.

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Speaking about the love for Football and Football players in the CITY OF JOY (KOLKATA), Erik mentioned a funny incident. He said-“ It was Christmas time and Kean Lewis and I were walking from the hotel to the shop to get Christmas gifts. And as soon as we stepped out, there were around 30 kids. They started walking behind us and started shouting our names and started calling for autographs. I asked Kean that whether it was safe and he was like- yeah yeah mate. Don’t worry. But in a matter of minutes, it became a whole crowd of people coming after us and we started running. We sprinted till the shop and I was sweating profusely on a winter night. It was around 200 people behind us trying to get photos and autographs. And one thing I noticed was that the intensity in Kolkata for football is something else. No disrespect to Bangalore fans but Football in Kolkata is just something else. Even in the semi-final, there were around 70,000 people screaming at the top of their voices and after the game, I just stood there for 20 odd minutes and took everything in. It was a fantastic atmosphere at the Salt Lake that evening and one that I will probably never forget.”

ERIK PAARTALU SPEAKS ON HIS LINK WITH ATK

Speaking on his link with ATK during the off season, he said- ” See, at the end of the day, you have to look at various things as a footballer. It’s not just football but you have to look at the financial side of it as well. I’m not young anymore and till the time I’m playing, i want to win trophies. At Bengaluru, I was disappointed with a couple of things last season, it’s not just money but other things as well. We didn’t have a great season, we were knocked out of the AFC Cup, we didn’t score a lot of goals and it was a disappointing season as a whole. So, I wanted to just get back to Australia and think about my future in a settled environment. After the semi-final, I watched the ATK team clapping with the crowd and I stood there for 20-25 minutes thinking that it could be my last game for Bengaluru, maybe my last game in India as I had no idea what I was going to do next. After I got home, there was some interest from not just ATK but some other clubs as well. But I found the right people making the right noises at Bengaluru and thus, it was an easy decision at the end to pen down a contact extension. “

When asked whether Sunil Chhetri had any role to play in his extension, Erik said- “Sunil really irritated me at the Awards night. The way he spoke on stage, I was a bit taken aback. He was really upset and angry and I was wondering as to why is he speaking like that. He started to single people out who didn’t have a good season and I took that quite personally. I thought that there was no reason to do something like that, going personal at people. But when I got back home, I realised that that’s his character, that’s his nature as a person. And that’s the type of guy you wanna play for. At the end of the day, you don’t want to let him down. I felt like here’s a person who has got everything in the world, but still works as hard as anyone in the world. So, if you sorround yourself with people like him, then it’s a blessing in itself. It doesn’t matter whether you finish first or third but you will know that you are working at your hardest, so for me that was enough to make my decision as if someone like him is that damn serious, then I should be the same and give it another crack.”

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ERIK AND GURPREET ARE CURRENTLY TRAINING TOGETHER IN SYDNEY

Talking about his friendship with Gurpreet, Erik said- “I’ve been training with him for 3 months now and it’s just so hard to score against him. He is probably the best goalkeeper I’ve ever worked with in my career. His 6.6 frame is intimidating and to score past him, the shot needs to be absolutely perfect, the right place, the right power, everything needs to be perfect if the ball has to go into the back of the net. Luckily for me, he has been in Australia and we can train together. With him, I can do a lot of shooting practice or else it would just have been defensive training, passing the ball around but having him here has certainly helped me a lot, and it’s the same with him as well. I’ll hope that he spends every off-season in the future in Australia.”

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He also added that Gurpreet is the next National Team Captain in waiting and can probably go on to play at another level. So, Bengaluru Fc are lucky to have him and he hopes that Gurpreet stays at Bengaluru for years to come.

Speaking about the youngsters at Bengaluru Fc, he said that all 3 of Udanta Singh, Ashique Kuruniyan and Suresh Singh are incredibly fit and fast and thats what you require in a modern day Footballer. Speaking specifically about each of them, Erik said the following stuff about The Flash- ” I love the guy to bits and pieces but I feel he has got so much to learn about how he can play in his position. Udanta is 1 guy who can be absolutely anything he wants in the game of football. He can easily play in Europe, he can play football at a completely different level but I feel that sometimes the willingness to learn more about the game just isn’t there with Udanta. It’s more about what he does off the field. Does he watch a lot of football videos, does he train that extra bit after training, something that a certain Suresh does. I’ve seen more progression in Suresh in just 6 months compared to Udanta whom I’ve been watching for 3 years now. No disrespect to Udanta, the boy’s gonna play every week the boy’s gonna score goals, the boy’s gonna have fun but Udanta needs to back himself and back the player that he can become, for sky is the limit for Udanta Singh.”

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SURESH WAS ONE OF THE SHINING LIGHTS IN AN OTHERWISE DISAPPOINTING CAMPAIGN FOR BFC.

Speaking about Suresh, he said-” Suresh was never going to play at the start of the season and he was upset about it and believe me that’s a great attitude to have. We all told him that you are not going to walk straight into a midfield consisting of Dimas, Erik and Augusto and you understand that. And instead of getting demoralized, he took it in his stride. The next couple of weeks, he was constantly asking me as to how can he improve his game, what are the areas that he needs to work on and plenty of other stuff too. So, for a young guy like him to put aside all the ego and just work on getting better is just amazing to see. And the hunger that Suresh has, I’ve never seen so much hunger in any other player in India as I have seen in Suresh. So he’s got a great future in front of him and I just hope he continues to develop.”

Erik also picked his All Time ISL XI and here’s what it looks like:

I have not seen a player as hungry to learn as Suresh - Erik Paartalu lineup 10
Coach- CARLES CUADRAT

At the end of the conversation, we had a Rapid fire round with Erik and here’s how it went by:

  1. Fifa/Pes- NEITHER
  2. CR7/LM10- MESSI
  3. Club he supports- MANCHESTER UNTIED
  4. Favourite team played for- BRISBANE ROAR
  5. Favourite Stadium in India- KAANTEERVA
  6. Best player ever played with- DAVID VILLA
  7. Best player ever played against- YAYA TOURE
  8. Toughest opponent- GUANGZHOU EVERGRANDE
  9. Toughest Isl opponent(player)- ROWLIN BORGES
  10. Toughest isl opponent (team)- MUMBAI CITY FC
  11. Favourite Indian Food- PARATHAS
  12. Best Indian player- SUNIL CHHETRI
  13. Best friend at Bfc- DIMAS DELGADO
  14. All time favourite player- ZINEDINE ZIDANE
  15. Best moment in career- SCORING FOR BRISBANE ROAR IN THE GRAND FINAL IN THE 120th MINUTE.

NEVER GIVE UP is Life’s Mantra for Erik and that’s his advice to everyone as well.

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