We will be much stronger in defence this time, says NEUFC defender Rakesh Pradhan

NorthEast United FC’s defender Rakesh Pradhan is one of the few players retained by the club for the season 7 of Indian Super League (ISL).

As a new set of defenders like Benjamin Lambot, Dylan Fox and Ashutosh Mehta have arrived in the team, Rakesh is hopeful that this will make the Highlanders much stronger in the defence line and will increase the competition level within the team this season.  

In an exclusive interview with The News Mill, Rakesh shares his thoughts ahead of the league.

Some of the excerpts:

The News Mill (TNM): How do you look forward to the new season?

Rakesh Pradhan: I am really excited for the season ahead. It will be a little strange with no fans in the stadium; a complete new atmosphere but at the end of the day happy with the ball on the feet and ready to give my best on the pitch.

TNM: How different it will be, especially with the arrival of two powerhouse of Indian football Mohun Bagan and East Bengal in the league?

Rakesh: They are the household names in Indian football, and I believe it will change the scenario of the league. They also have great fanbases and there will be a lot of social war between the fans of the clubs. Them coming to ISL will bring lots of positivity and the level of competition will also rise among the other teams.

TNM: How did you prepare yourself during the lockdown period?

Rakesh: I tried my best to get all small details regarding the game and correct it. From nutrition to fitness and I tried to analyse all the matches from last season and look where the mistakes were and where I could improve myself so that I can bring out the best in me and be well prepared for the season ahead.

TNM: How do you fancy your team’s chances this season?

Rakesh: I am really looking forward to it. There is a new energy and a positive attitude around the team. Everyone has come here doing their homework well and we will fight for the top four and give our best to give back the fans what they deserve.

TNM: The team has a very young yet experienced coach? How are you looking forward to working with Gerard Nus?

Rakesh: Coach Nus is someone I have enjoyed working from day one. He has the right vision for the team and his intelligent work in building the team has been very positive so far. The gaffer is building a healthy atmosphere within the team and I am hopeful that people will start seeing the results too once the season begin.

TNM: Apart from that, the team has a new set of defenders in Benjamin Lambot, Dylan Fox and Ashutosh Mehta. How are you looking up to it?

Rakesh: Yes, we do have quite a few new faces in the team, and they are bringing with lots of experience on with themselves, which will help us in the long run. It will also bring a healthy competition within the team.I believe we will be much stronger defensively and I am really looking forward to rub our shoulders together for the team.

TNM: NEUFC starts good but fails to keep up the momentum almost every year. Where are the shortcomings?

Rakesh: Well! this is a tricky question, but I personally believe that it’s pointless to keep dwelling on our past years. We all have learnt from our mistakes individually and also as a team and we will make sure to not repeat the mistakes and keep improving ourselves as a team and eventually we will be able to yield the results in our favour.

TNM: Tell us something about your initial days in Assam and Meghalaya?

Rakesh: I am a small-town boy from Umrangso, Dima Hasao with a big dream,rather a crazy dream to put a step in Indian football; but never in my wildest dreams that I thought making it this far. I did my schooling in Shillong and that’s where I was first introduced to  a professional team that is Shillong Lajong and the team built and nurtured me to become a better player and that is how I took my next step into ISL and into the team where I proudly represent the region as a whole.

TNM: You are very young and plenty of football left in you. How do you want to see yourself in the next five years?

Rakesh: In the coming years I want to take my game to the next level and as all of us, it is my dream to represent the country and to win trophies with the current team.

TNM: If we talk about the football in NE, Assam seems to be lagging behind Mizoram, Manipur and Meghalaya. Why is this so? How is the current scene of football in Assam?

Rakesh: We all know that the northeast region of India is crazy about football and Assam is not lagging behind in the game but I believe we have failed to popularize the game as well as put efforts in the grassroots.

It would be wrong of me to say that we lack in the number of football tournaments, what we actually lack is well structured football tournaments and a good setup for the young ones to develop. We have plenty of talent in the state but what we do not have the proper setup for those talents to grow.

I can only hope that in the upcoming days the government as well as the corporates will put efforts in improving the current scenario and we can also be at a level of our neighbouring states.

TNM: Apart from the ISL, how do you see the coaching scenario in India?

Rakesh: It has reached to a different level these days and a day is not far when an Indian coaches will be taking full charge of the teams in the ISL. The standard has been of an elite level and the federation is putting their all efforts in improving the coaching scenario as a whole so that the Indian football family grows as a whole and can reach to a state where we can compete with the giants of Asian football.

About Abdul Gani

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Abdul Gani is a Guwahati-based journalist

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