The Chennaiyin FC midfielder answered several questions from his fans in a live session.

Chennaiyin FC midfielder Anirudh Thapa took to Indian Football Team’s Instagram page for a live session where he replied to fans’ questions and shared a lot of personal anecdotes from his career so far.

The important question revolved around his journey with the national team commencing from his debut in 2017. When asked about his feeling at the moment, Thapa replied, “I think it was the Tri-Nations Cup, I was surprised and proud. When I received the call I completely blacked out. I also had some teammates from the U-23 camp which made it a bit easier for me.”

But the midfielder didn’t have the easiest of initiations in the team. He spoke about the incident in his first training session leading up to his debut.

“In my first (training) session, I was in Sunil (Chhetri) bhai’s team and we were playing the mini-games during training. I was nervous as I was playing with such a legend. I couldn’t believe myself and I didn’t particularly play well and we lost the (mini) game. Sunil Bhai was unhappy with me saying I didn’t put my body on the line. He always wants to win, of course. I was nervous, but then it went on well and even Sunil bhai eased later.”

Making his debut against St.Kitts and Nevis as a substitute came as a dream come true moment for Thapa. “I came on as a substitute in that game and played a few minutes, it was a special feeling. But, it wasn’t until 5-6 months later in the Intercontinental Cup when I actually felt nervous (first start). We played well, I assisted Sunil bhai’s hat-trick goal and I was very happy with the win,” said Anirudh Thapa, who has since gone on to represent the Blue Tigers a further 22 times.

When asked about the game that made him the most nervous, he recollected his thoughts ahead of India’s first AFC Asian Cup game against Thailand. Thapa reminisced on the occasion in great detail, saying, “Obviously, it was a huge game for us, it is the biggest competition in Asia.”

“At dinner, the night before the game, Sunil bhai took the stage and motivated everyone. The players who weren’t there were also behind us by checking in on us. Especially, Eugene (Eugeneson Lyngdoh), who messaged personally asking about the team and encouraging the players which motivated us a great deal. The next day we went out and played a great match.”

That motivation led to the team triumphing the War Elephants 1-4 the next day, with Thapa scoring his first international goal which the midfielder recounted with great relish. He stated, “It was a great moment for me. In the first half they played well and we were lacking in some areas, we did score but then they equalized. At half-time, we came back to the dressing room and Sunil bhai motivated everyone. He then scored the goal which got us going.”

Speaking about his goal, Thapa said, “Sandy bhai (Sandesh Jhingan) crossed the ball and didn’t see me. I saw that the defender and the keeper were in the same line and kept the ball rolling towards one side. And I knew they would come at me and I just chipped the ball. I was really excited, I ran to my teammates and everyone was happy that we were winning at this stage and it was a different feeling.”

Anirudh Thapa has since become a staple part of India’s midfield. Under Igor Stimac too he has seen himself slot in as a playmaking midfielder, with the team looking to play more possession-based football. When asked about the change in style and his role within it, he replied, “Possession football suits me. Obviously, I’m not physically tough and the pace is high and more physical in international football. This style is suiting us, we are moving the ball well and we are fighting for our position. We are looking to make the coach’s job difficult.”

When asked about his future with the national team, Thapa sounded optimistic and very clear in his vision. “I want to work hard and improve every day. I want to keep getting better and help the team, to take India to greater heights where we want to be. It is important to stay focused and motivated. We are hungry and we just need to keep our heads down and continue working hard.”

Further, the 22-year-old made the transition from youth to international football but not before cutting his teeth across all age-groups. Speaking about the change in format and environment, Anirudh Thapa said, “In international football, the intensity is high, it is tough and people get on to you and try to put you down. It is very different from youth football. When you get to international football, there is a different level of preparation needed.”

When asked about his footballing idols, he cited the names of Real Madrid’s Ballon d’Or winning midfielder Luka Modric and current manager Zinedine Zidane.

The Chennaiyin FC midfielder, like all others has been spending the lockdown indoors. When asked how, he replied, “I’m working out at home and maintaining my fitness. The national team fitness coach has sent the workout schedule and we are working on it.”

Speaking on the difficulties faced during the lockdown, he empathized with people struggling through this phase. “Obviously, it is very tough for us right now, many people have lost their lives, many people aren’t getting food, most people don’t have homes and are travelling. We should pray for their safety and stay patient. I’m sure we can come out of this phase. IIt is difficult, but I am confident we can come out of this,” concluded Anirudh Thapa.