In the last nine matches the Indian senior men’s team have played, Akash Mishra has not been on the pitch for only 12 minutes. Such has been his rise over the past few seasons that the 21-year-old has become India’s best option at left-back. Head coach Igor Stimac and his trust in him has played a big role in his ascent, according to Mishra.
“I think it’s a huge factor and very important for a player, especially a youngster like me, in his career when the coach trusts him to get the job done. And when that happens, even an average player becomes a great one because that gives him confidence, and he keeps pushing himself to improve every day,” says Mishra.
Born in Balrampur in Uttar Pradesh, Mishra debuted as a 19-year-old for the Blue Tigers in March 2021 in a 1-1 draw against Oman in a friendly. He is still the youngest player in the current camp in Bhubaneswar for the Hero Intercontinental Cup and the subsequent SAFF Championship in Bengaluru. With what Mishra has achieved at a young age, it’s easy to get carried away, but he is well aware that there’s a long way to go in his career. And for his career to be fruitful, his feet have to be on the ground.
“I feel proud to be a part of the national team at a young age. I hope that my parents and my coaches are proud as well and happy to see me succeed. But at the moment, the only thing on my mind is to keep improving myself, and because I’m young, I get to learn a lot from the senior players on and off the field. It’s also important to know how to carry yourself off the pitch as a professional footballer,” Mishra says.
“In the national camp, you have the best players from every club in the country, and each player has some qualities which others don’t. There are a lot of aspects of the game I still have to grasp, and if I keep learning something or the other from every player, it will help me in my game. My sole focus right now is improving myself in every training session,” he adds.
If there’s something that only a few can do better than Mishra in India, it’s making marauding runs down the left wing. Ask him what his favourite job is as a left-back, and he’ll say, “Overlaps. I love making overlaps and joining the team in attack. A full-back always has to multi-task, and yes, as a defender, defending is my priority, but I’m always thrilled to contribute in the attacking third and help my team score goals.”
Mishra won the ISL title with Hyderabad FC in 2021-22 and also won the Tri-Nation in Imphal earlier this year. The youngster is now keen to add to his tally a first SAFF Championship title as he couldn’t participate in the 2021 edition which India won in Maldives.
“Unfortunately, I missed out last time as I had to go with the U-23s at the same time. However, I’m very excited to finally be in the SAFF squad this time, and the best part is that we are hosting it. We are motivated to win it, and I’m sure that our fans in Bengaluru will cheer us in large numbers,” he says.
But first and foremost, Mishra and the Blue Tigers’ concern is the Intercontinental Cup in Bhubaneswar. As part of the Indian Arrows setup until 2020, he has spent a lot of time in the Odisha capital and is delighted to be back.
“I’ve been here in Bhubaneswar during my Arrows days, and back then as well, I noticed that the training facilities were great here. Now I’m back here after three years, and things look even better. There are more pitches, better gym equipment and all the other stuff that’s helping us get ready for the tournament,” he shares.