After a long wait of six years, Kerala Blasters qualified for the Indian Super League finals. However, they fell at the final stage narrowly against Hyderabad FC. Despite the final result, the season can be termed as their best performance.
Kerala Blasters, under Ivan Vukomanovic, played a very entertaining brand of attacking football. However, it's their defence that has been the talk of the town and a certain 21-year-old chap, Ruivah Hormipam was the pillar of the Kerala defence.
After signing for Kerala Blasters ahead of the season, Hormipam established himself in the starting eleven and put up consecutive great performances. In an exclusive interview with The bridge, the Junior Indian International, spoke up close and personal.
Hormipam made his senior debut in I-League with Indian Arrows. He then spent a year with RoundGlass Punjab, before moving to Kerala Blasters. Hormpiam made his debut for Kerala Blasters against the Indian Navy in the Durand Cup. The young defender later made his ISL debut in a 3-0 win over Mumbai City. He soon became a pivotal part of the squad.
"Indian Arrows was a great experience. The objective was to develop and play well and results were later. In Punjab, the dynamics changed as winning was essential and there were senior players as well whom I had to compete for the spot. At Kerala, there is a whole different story," said the defender.
"Here we have players from all different leagues around the world and they are fighting for the spot in the squad. So it becomes even more difficult. Tactically the team is advanced and so are the opponents. There is a lot of planning as to how we play. But I feel the major difference remains about competition in the squad. In Arrows, we were of the same age and possessed the same amount of experience. But at Kerala, I have to compete with the big boys and I guess the stakes are higher," he added
After the successful FIFA U-17 World Cup, AIFF revived the Indian Arrows project. Since then, Indian Arrows has given a breakthrough to a lot of young players who would have struggled to get game time in other professional clubs. Hormipam who was a part of the project explained the importance of his time in Arrows.
"It was the best move for me. It brought me to the elite level of Football. Before that, we were playing Junior level football. Playing against tough senior sides was a challenge. All the matches were tough for us. It made us understand discipline and effort. One mistake and team would punish us. So we learned how to not lose focus. We also learned how to prepare for matches. We learned about how opponents would play and how we need to counter them. Apart from that, we were wearing the India batch so in some way I felt very proud and a sense of purpose," quipped the defender.
After a disastrous season, Blasters management brought in Ivan Vukomanovic. Within a season, Ivan built a strong squad. Under his tutelage, Kerala finished fourth in the league and qualified for the playoffs. In the playoffs, Kerala stunned the league champions Jamshedpur FC and qualified for their third final. While expressing his utmost respect for his coach, Hormipam said, "I cannot thank him enough to give me this wonderful opportunity and help me keep growing. He was also a defender himself so I feel he guides and develops me even better. I feel I am learning from every match. And there have been many mistakes as the coach points it out and we work in training to avoid them during games. I have to learn a lot this is just the beginning."
On his partnership with Leskovic
Along with Hormipam, Marko Leskovic was roped in by Kerala Blasters, earlier in the season. While Hormipam came into the starting lineup in the middle of the season, Leskovec has been the mainstay in Kerala's defence. Since Hormipam's debut, the duo has emerged as one of the best centre back pairs in the league. While praising Leskovic, he said, "I feel Lesko is a very good player. More than anything he is the one who has adapted to my playing style and always covers and protects me. He is the real star of the defence along with Khabra sir. We have got clean sheets and that gave us a lot of confidence. He is a high-quality player and I'm fortunate to have him as a partner at the back with me."
Mantra of success
In his debut season in the ISL, Hormipam has established himself as one of the best young defenders of the league. Although the Kerala Blasters defender is figuring the mantra of success, he is always keen on learning and believes in hard work. While praising his teammates and coaches, Hormipam expressed, "I am still figuring it out. I feel what helped me is that I always want to learn and work hard. And I have been fortunate to have such good teachers in our coach and coaching staff and ever so experienced teammates who guide me always. I knew my time would come and I had to be patient. I just want to keep learning and keep winning and not stop."
On his maiden national team call up
With such a humongous performance in his back, Hormipam didn't have to wait much for his national team call up. While speaking about this, the former India U-23 defender said, "Yes, a dream come true for me and my family. It feels good, honoured, and excited. But right now I am just thinking about one game that is left and then I will focus on the national camp. I want to play for India and I want to make every Indian Proud."
Advice for young players
Currently regarded as one of the best centre backs in the country, Hormipam has proved that with hard work everything is possible. When asked for advice for young players Hormipam quipped, "I am still young myself. I don't have much advice. But one thing I have learned from the seniors which I would like to share is that we have to take care of our bodies. It will help you make your career longer. Also, focus on mental ability and confidence with that we can achieve a lot of things and overcome obstacles."