The forward also revealed the reasons behind the Highlanders’ pleasant campaign in the previous season.
NorthEast United had a very memorable campaign in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2020-21 season. Initially under the management of Gerard Nus and later coached by Khalid Jamil, the Highlanders finished third in the league, also qualifying for the play-offs for only the second time in their history. Players like Dylan Fox, Ashutosh Mehta, Lalengmawia, VP Suhair and Luis Machado excelled for them. Surely they would be hoping to continue in the same vein in the forthcoming season as well.
While their success happened as a result of a team performance, a few players helped slightly more than the others. VP Suhair was one of them, who delivered a quiet but effective performance that captured the attention of both fans and experts.
Hailing from Edathanattukara in Palakkad, Kerala, the forward started playing football from a young age. In an exclusive interview with Khel Now, VP Suhair spoke about a host of topics, including his beginnings, pathway to the ISL, experiences with NorthEast United and hopes for the future.
Initiation to the game
The 29-year-old began his career during his school days. He represented Palakkad at the high school level, and slowly went all the way to play for Calicut University in the All-India level.
Very few people know this, but his brothers also played football. This meant that the game played a big role in his life all the way while growing up. One of his brothers, VP Suneer, is now the coach of youth development at Kerala United. Apart from his brothers, Suhair is also grateful to many others for showing him the way.
“Coach Satheevan Balan, Coach Bino George, Rajah Rizwan – former manager of Gokulam Kerala’s senior team, all of these people played a very important role in my career. I’m grateful to all of them. I generally refrain from saying names because I am afraid if I’ll omit someone. There are many people to whom I owe my career,” he stated.
Time at Mohun Bagan under Kibu Vicuna
It was in the 2019-20 season that VP Suhair started getting nationwide attention for the first time, due to his exploits with Mohun Bagan in the I-League. Under then-head coach Kibu Vicuna, the outfit won the league with four games to spare. Suhair featured in all the league games for the Mariners.
“I don’t know about what happened with Vicuna at Kerala Blasters, but to me, he is an excellent coach. He gave me a lot of support. His confidence in me definitely played a role in where I am now,” the striker recalled.
He also revealed that the Spaniard almost took him to the Blasters last summer. “He asked me to wait and told me that a formal offer will arrive soon. But unfortunately, it didn’t reach me as soon as I would have wanted. I did not want to take a risk and hence chose NorthEast United, who had offered me a contract by then,” he said.
“I am happy with my decision – I scored three goals and registered an assist, thanks to God’s grace,” he added.
About Khalid Jamil
If the fans are asked to name the one main man responsible for NorthEast United’s success in the previous campaign, most fingers will point to Khalid Jamil. The 44-year-old coach led his team to the play-offs and also seem to have cemented his place in the side as their chief tactician.
“Coach Khalid is very friendly and even cracks jokes occasionally. One specialty, or a difference that I’ve felt from my other coaches is how he raises his voice while talking. I’ve had the experience of playing under him at East Bengal, so I was familiar with this particular aspect of his. The new players, however, found it a bit surprising at first but later got accustomed to it,” Suhair revealed.
“Once, during last season, he had to clarify that he wasn’t angry when he talked loudly like this. He is one of India’s best coaches and takes care of all aspects of players starting from training sessions to situations during the game.”
About teammates at NorthEast United
“One thing that deserves a mention was our unity. Regardless of whether they were foreign players with great experienced or the young, domestic starlets trying to create an impact, we were always together. The seniors helped the juniors,” VP Suhair enunciated.
“Benjamin Lambot was like a big brother to us and used to take care of us well. Camara was the shy, reserved type. Gallego, always entertaining and friendly. Can’t eliminate anyone. And, the dressing room atmosphere was terrific. I think that’s also one of the principal reasons why were able to perform very well,” he went on saying.
Life inside the bio-bubble
Speaking about the most difficult part of his season with NorthEast United during the previous campaign, VP Suhair did not have to think twice before answering, “The bio-bubble.”
“Life inside the bio-bubble was very tough. Of course, there are advantages – like it helps in the overall improvement of team chemistry as you’re with them all time. However, in this case, the disadvantages created bigger impact,” he opined.
“It’s very hard for players to cope with tough times in a bio-bubble. Sometimes one may be going through a lean patch, or his team may not be performing well. In such cases, players generally distract themselves from the matches, step outside for a movie or for having food, etc. Obviously this is not possible in a bio-bubble, and we are left with very few options to unwind,” Suhair explained.
“I love trying different cuisines, and meeting people close to me. Neither was possible last season!” he added.
However, the forward also added that he is ready to tackle the bio-bubble challenge head-on in the forthcoming season. “The club needs me to do it and I accept that as part of my duty to them. We reached the semi-finals last season, we shall now leave no stone unturned in our path towards the trophy,” he concluded.