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ISL 2020-21: For Odisha FC's Hendry Antonay, it's all about the learning curve

Odisha FC's Hendry Antonay has already made a big splash. Although his team hasn't fared too well in the Indian Super League (ISL), the gifted 20-year-old has impressed.

ISL 2020-21: For Odisha FCs Hendry Antonay, its all about the learning curve


Updated: 13 March 2021 4:36 AM GMT

A few weeks into his first season as a senior footballer and Odisha FC's Hendry Antonay has already made a big splash. Although his team hasn't fared too well in the Indian Super League (ISL), the gifted 20-year-old has impressed, quickly establishing himself as head coach Stuart Baxter's first choice left-back.

And by his own admission, he is gaining a lot of knowledge and wisdom, something that wouldn't have been possible at a lower league club. He has already featured in four ISL games, and has made a positive impact on the left channel.

"I am sure that I have a lot to learn here. In fact, I already have this feeling that I will improve with every passing day," Hendry tells The Bridge in an exclusive interaction.

"Before coming here, I was playing at junior levels. Whether it was at Bengaluru FC or Chennaiyin FC or Indian Arrows, it was like I was playing at an academy. But Odisha FC is completely different because here I am with the senior team. The setup is more professional, the approach is much different. Every second of the day, we have to be professional, we have to maintain ourselves on and off the pitch."

Odisha signed Hendry Antonay from Indian Arrows (Source: AIFF)

When one takes a look at the youngster's career path, it is not hard to miss that Hendry has climbed up the ladders of Indian football through hard work and dedication. Having started for the academy sides of Ozone FC and Pune FC, he rose up the ranks gradually.. He spent almost two years at the Pune FC academy before being called into the Indian setup in 2015 after the selection trials in Mumbai.

It was at the trials that former coach Nicolai Adam spotted him and Hendry would never look back. He represented the Indian U-17 team during the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup that was hosted by India and after that, he signed for Chennaiyin in January 2018.

But at Chennaiyin, he was only playing for their B side in the I-League 2nd division, lack of game time frustrated him.

"After playing in the I-League 2nd division for Chennaiyin's reserve team, some of us were promoted to train with the senior team," Hendry recalls. "However, I wasn't getting any game time there. At that time I wanted to play, and since I had already played in the 2nd division I wanted to play and test myself in a higher division, which was I-League. I wanted to play big matches, take on bigger teams like Mohun Bagan and East Bengal.

"You know, when you go for these away matches... the feeling is different, the pressure is different. I wanted to see if I could handle myself in such pressure situations. Obviously, the ultimate goal was to play in the ISL but if I didn't know that I was ready for these big matches, how would I compete in the ISL?"

antonay Hendry Antonay in action (Source: ISL)

"Playing in the I-League, for Arrows, boosted my confidence massively. Now, I feel that yes, I can compete in the ISL.

"So now if I am able to do well here, playing in the I-League will be one of the major reasons. When I am taking on star Indian players or foreign players for that matter, I am not fazed by them and I can just concentrate on my game. I am giving my 200%. What are my goals? I just want to learn as quickly as possible, I want to pick up what the coach is saying and constantly push myself," he adds.

At Odisha, Hendry is receiving expert guidance from Steven Taylor, the former Newcastle United man who has bags of experience of playing in the Premier League, as well as Aussie defender Jacob Tratt.

"Obviously, there's so much to learn from Taylor and Tratt and each of the foreigners. We are playing together in the defence line and in training or in matches, and to tell you frankly, they are always communicating with us. And with Taylor, the thing is, it is easier to grasp what he is saying and he is always vocal. Not just that, he is always keen to listen to what we want to say," Hendry reveals.

"When I started playing football, I was just 5. I was naive and didn't have any ideas, but as I kept on playing, I started dreaming of making it big, not just for myself but also for my family. As long as I can play football, I will keep on fighting to achieve something in football. I still don't know what it is like to play for India, it's a different feeling, no? I want to experience that, I want to be there and I just won't give up," he signs off.

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