The attacking midfielder talks about his childhood dreams, playing in Coimbatore and a move to the ISL.

Among all the raising heroes in Indian football, one talent that has stood apart is Chennai City’s young star Michael Soosairaj. Fondly called “Soosai Anna ” by local fans, he is already a household name in the state.

Known for his versatility and comfort with the ball at his feet, the midfielder who is enjoying a breakthrough season in the I-League sat down for a candid chat with our Coimbatore corespondent Guna Sheelan to reflect on his journey in football so far and his aspirations for the future.

Born in the football-crazy region of Thoothoor in Tamil Nadu. he started playing football since he was five years old. The fact that he didn’t have a proper coach until the last few years shows how naturally equipped he is.

For a player to shine in India, one needs more than just talent and Soosairaj possesses exactly that, determination. “Sometimes athletes see sports as an option, but I was determined that my life is only about football. I always knew I can be nothing else than a footballer ” he stated. ” Even when I had good job offers, I didn’t have a look at them “

For a player who wished to play with freedom, the Chennai city management provided the perfect environment. ” Rohit sir (Rohit Ramesh) is very supportive and understanding. He gives us 100% freedom. Me being personally close to him, I know he is just the perfect owner you would wish to have.”

Soosairaj (right) with Chennai City FC coach V Soundrarajan (middle) and Gokulam Kerala FC coach Bino George (left)

To have a player of his calibre is always a pleasure for any coach and no wonder  Chennai boss Soundrarajan shows complete belief in the 23-year-old. ” Last season, I didn’t get much chances until Robin sir (former head coach Robin Charles Raja) was in charge. I didn’t suit his ideas. But, since ‎Soundrarajan took over, he played me regularly in the I-League and then in the Federation Cup,” he explained.

Talking about his experience of playing in the top flight the left midfielder said, “Last year. I had initial nerves as I was worried about players who might attack me from behind. I would pass the ball immediately when I have it. But, this year, I have the freedom to dribble past players and it’s my natural game as well. That’s how I used to play in the Chennai League and that’s what brought me success.”

Under former coach Charles Raja, local players didn’t play a huge role in the team whereas Soundrarajan has banked on them as a minimum of four local players have started every match this season. Stressing on the same Soosairaj said, “It takes a lot to trust in the local talents and Chennai City FC have done that since the start. It’s important for Tamil players to get the opportunity to prove themselves “.

Shifting to a new home this season, Chennai weren’t expecting much hospitability from the Coimbatore people. All that changed when they faced East Bengal in their first home game. Mesmerized by the support they received were not just the team but also the football fandom around the country.

“When I first heard that (sic) we were shifting our base, I was not sure how I would cope up in the new city. The initial few days in Coimbatore weren’t good. I was already missing Chennai. But, as soon as I saw the support in our first home game, I understood I was in the right place. Since then, I have enjoyed playing before this awesome crowd,” asserted the southerners’ ace.

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Chennai City have had a mixed season so far and that still keeps them in the relegation zone. Time and time again, they have shown they are good enough to compete against the big clubs. Their resilient defence and hard-working midfield showcase how well the side is organized. While these features highlight their abilities, the team has failed to convert them into results against some of the so-called lesser teams and especially those around them.

“In assessing the season so far the youngster said, “We have played extremely well so far. We improve ourselves every game. But, we drew games which we deserved to win. We have drawn so many games this season that we feel if we had won two or three of those, we would be in a comfortable position now.”

With two big games to go, they have all the reasons to be desperate for maximum points as they look forward not just to finishing well on the table but also to gearing up for the inaugural Super Cup. The top six teams from the I-league and the ISL get direct entry into the tournament proper, while the bottom four teams have to play qualifiers in order to take part in this mega event.

The young turk hopes to catch the eye of the National coach and get call-up in the future

“The Super Cup is our next aim. Because when you play the Super Cup, all the scouts will watch you. Even the national coach will have a look. That’s why it becomes important in someway qualify for the Super Cup. We will look to finish in the top six, else we’ll give our best in the qualifiers.”

The pride of Thoothoor carries the hopes of the region as they dream of the day their local boy would wear the national colours. Born and brought up in this coastal region, Soosairaj is aiming for the stars.

“My dream has always been to represent the country. Back at (sic) home, everyone wants the same from me. We play football all day there. If I play for the country at least once, I will feel satisfied.”

The Chennai City skipper’s performances have caught the eye of many ISL clubs

The nimble-footed attacking player has become a target for many Indian Super League (ISL) clubs and that isn’t surprising as a player of his quality is hard to miss. “Obviously every player would choose the ISL over the I-League. The ISL is the next stage after you perform well in the l-League,” affirmed Soosairaj.

But he once again showed his love for his present club and it’s fans when he said, “Yes, I have many offers but for the amount of love I have received, I wouldn’t mind staying here. It’s up to the management to keep me or accept the offers. The fans have been great. They are my greatest strength and my reason to work hard. Whenever I was down, the fans have lifted my spirits. “

It was the 88th minute of the game in Coimbatore when Chennai faced Churchill Brothers, the substitution board showed that #23 is set to be taken off. The crowd were on their feet, claps everywhere, then the chants started, ” Soosai Soosai Soosai ” as the man himself walked from the distance, hands raised in the air, as he acknowledged the support he received. That indicated the rise of a hero against all odds. The success of a kid and the beginning of a glorious journey.