Looking back on his journey through the ranks at the AIFF Elite Academy, Blue Tigers midfielder Anirudh Thapa feels playing friendly matches against senior players helped him mature faster as a player.
During a live chat on AIFF TV, the 22-year-old said that it was because of the number of matches that he got to play against quality opponents while he was at the Academy, that he has now become a regular feature in the heart of the Blue Tigers midfield.
“I feel blessed to have trained under someone like Gautam (Ghosh) sir during my AIFF Academy days,” said Thapa.
The midfielder further went on to state how matches were arranged every week at the Kalyani Stadium, where the AIFF Academy boys trained. While these were essentially friendly matches, the boys used to play against senior teams, most of whom were regulars in senior leagues.
“Gautam Sir used to set up matches for us. They were good teams, all seniors, and were playing in the Kolkata Premier League,” recalled Thapa. “Whether we won or lost these matches was not important. What mattered was that it helped us grow. Those really were the best days.”
Mind you, the AIFF Academy boys were barely 15 at that time, and all of those encounters drew a crowd of around 3000 or more at the Kalyani Stadium.
“Gautam Sir used to treat us like we were his own children. And that’s not an easy task since he had his own family and his own children to look after. It’s not easy to manage 25-30 more boys on top of that,” said Thapa. “I had never seen him as a player, but we could tell that he was really good, just by looking at the moves he used to make on the training pitch,” he quipped.
At the heart of the Blue Tigers midfield, the young Thapa is known for his propensity to find the right passes at the right time. This, in fact, was a quality that was developed in him during his nascent years in the beautiful game, back in his school days at the St. Stephen’s Academy.
“I was not born talented, so I had to work hard. Ever since my days in Dehradun, my coaches have worked me a lot. Then at St. Stephen’s in Chandigarh, Surinder (Singh) Sir played a huge role in my development. I was only 10 or 12 years old then, and he understood my game and moulded me likewise,” said Thapa.
“What I am, is because of the hard work of the coaches who have trained me in the past. They have helped my footballing IQ grow…it’s still growing. It’s the daily grind and the input of the coaches that helped me become what I am today,” he further stated.
A CHANCE ENCOUNTER WITH ‘THE WALL’
From an early stage, Thapa has had the experience of playing against kids who were a few years older than him.
It was during one of these matches that the young midfielder came across someone who would later go on to be his teammate at the Indian National Team.
“We were made to play against boys who were 3-4 years older than us. I was 12, when Gurpreet bhai came from the U-19 camp and we had a game against them,” Thapa recalled.
“It’s not that I was exceptional against them. I used to make mistakes. But that helped me grow. That belief that the coach showed in me did a lot,” he said.