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For Hyderabad FC's young Asish Rai, 'learning never stops' in football

Excerpts from an interview of 22 yo old Asish Rai as the Hyderabad FC defender takes us through his time at the club so far.

Asish Rai Hyderabad FC Football Manolo Marquez

Asish Rai in action during ISL 2020-21 (Source: ISL)


The Bridge Desk

Published: 16 April 2021 8:27 AM GMT

The 2020-21 season of the Indian Super League (ISL) had a lot to offer. On one hand, the country got a new numero uno club in Mumbai FC who swept both the trophies that were there for the taking. On the other, this season was probably the best ever in terms of the performances put forth by Indian players, especially youngsters. And if there is one club that is bound to pop up in any conversation around young players, that has to be Hyderabad FC.

With a whole bunch of starry-eyed kids, the Nizams, under Manolo Marquez's tutelage, almost reached the playoffs for the first time in the club's history. Although they did fall short in the end, it doesn't discount the fact that they have given us the likes of Asish Rai, Akash Mishra and Hitesh Sharma, all of whom have bright futures. Hailing from Sikkim, Asish is the quintessential north-easterner, shy, soft-spoken but extremely warm. The Bridge sat down with the right back as we discussed the season gone by and his progression as a player. Excerpts --

Q. How would you describe your ISL 2020-21 season as a whole?

It was a really memorable season, not just for me as a player, but for our whole team. The progress we made compared to the season before is really encouraging and we now have a platform to build on these performances and stand as one of the toughest teams in the league.

Q. How much did you learn in the last two ISL seasons?

I try to improve as a player, in every game and every training session. I believe that 'learning never stops' and I am happy that I am able to play regularly and add experience to my game.

Q. You had one of the best ball progression numbers in the ISL this season. Considering that you are primarily a defender, how do you time your forward runs?

I think a lot depends on the understanding of the situation. You need to know when to time your runs and when to add numbers in attack. It is crucial to make use of space between the lines and behind the backline but as a full-back I should also be aware of the space I leave behind me.

Q. How do you rate your time with the Indian Arrows? Do you think that has helped you improve as a player?

I only have good things to say about the Arrows. They were the first platform I got to showcase myself. The game time and exposure we got, travelling to various cities has really helped me be the player I am today.

Q. You were one of the best tacklers and interceptors in the league this season. Take us through what you focus on to improve in that aspect.

I believe that your positioning as a full-back is most important. In this position, you need to be patient with and without the ball. Not losing concentration for long periods is also key.

Q. How is training usually like for a young team like Hyderabad FC?

We have a quality squad at Hyderabad FC and there is healthy competition for every place in the starting XI. This makes sure that we are focused in every training session. But we are also close to each other and are focused on learning and improving as a team.

Q. Having come from a small town in Sikkim, how much time did it take you to get used to a footballer's lifestyle?

I don't really think too much about things which can prove to be a distraction. I believe in keeping things simple and that is my strength, even under pressure. That is also how I am as a person, quite simple.

Q. Manolo Marquez must be a fantastic coach to train under. Tell us about the players' equation with him.

Manolo is an experienced coach, who has trained youngsters for a long time now. He knows how to get the best out of every player but more importantly, he brings with him, a good vibe on and off the field, and that has helped us stay together and fight together as one.

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