It has been a fantastic debut Indian Super League (ISL) campaign for Khassa Camara. The Mauritanian has been one of the main men for NorthEast United and has played a key role in their incredible comeback under Khalid Jamil which sees them well in contention for a playoff place. The Bridge caught up with the 28-year-old recently and it was pleasantly surprising that just like his no-nonsense approach on the pitch, the midfielder is a straight-talker off it as well.
For someone who has spent most of his career in France and Greece, adapting to the ISL and conditions here in India must have been quite a task. “It was hard for the first few days after the quarantine because it’s very hot and humid here but now I am perfectly adapted,” he says with a smile. “To be honest the level in Greece and France is higher but that is normal. Indian football is still in development but the level here is still very good and it is not easy to predict a score cause every team can win on their day,” he goes on to add.
The Highlanders have had to do it the hard way this term. After an impressive start to the season, the side’s form tapered off which eventually led to the sacking of Gerard Nus. However, under Jamil, they are yet to lose a game and are just one point of the top four with a game in hand. “Yes it’s true that we started very well and after that we had some difficulties. But every team has their bad moments in a season so the most important thing is to bounce back and that’s what we did,” Camara says in a matter-of-fact tone.
Bounce back they did and the all-action midfielder has had a lot to do with it. He has the most number of tackles in the NorthEast side this term, as well as the second-highest number of interceptions, touches and passes. His positioning has mostly been impeccable at the heart of their midfield and he has been equally adept at breaking up opposition play and initiating counter attacks.
“It’s not an easy position but it’s not the hardest position either. If I make a mistake there are others behind me to help out but for me, it’s the best position because I can touch the ball more than everyone else and create the game in front of me,” he explains rather nonchalantly.
The fact that NorthEast have the lowest number of touches as well as passes out of all the teams so far and have still scored 27 goals further illustrates how efficient they have been with the ball at their feet. Camara acknowledges this and believes that is one of their biggest strengths as an attacking unit. “We knew from the beginning of the season that counter attacks will be one of our main weapons because we have very quick players on the wings. Having said that, we’ve still had to work hard on our strategy to make sure that we use the counter attacks in the best way possible,” he says.
With just two matches left in the league stages, Camara and his teammates now have to ensure that all the good work for the past three months can be actualized in the form of a playoff spot. They play SC East Bengal and Kerala Blasters, two sides that are struggling for form and confidence and if they can get at least four points out of the available six, they’ll have made it. This also means that the pressure will be huge on the side which has only once qualified for the playoffs before.
“To be very honest the pressure is the same as before because nobody thought that we would be here at the beginning of the season. The pressure to fight for the top 4 is always a good pressure and we just have to show that we can handle it,” is how the Highlanders’ midfield talisman sums things up ahead of their crucial match against an SC East Bengal side still hurting from their derby defeat.