The 23-year-old spoke about his journey towards joining Bengaluru FC and ambitions going forward.

Bengaluru FC wing-back Ashique Kuruniyan was the latest to attend the #LetsFootballLive event on Instagram, where he spoke to Anant Tyagi and answered questions from both the host and fans in a candid chat.

Quick in his replies like his bursts on the wing, Ashique spoke with great pride on his path so far in football. Interestingly, he started off with athletics in school, before his mind was changed to the beautiful game by his coaches. Speaking of the same, he replied, “I was in sixth grade when I competed in running and long jump, seeing my ability my PT sir said that I could do well in football. I got a chance to play and from there everything started.”

Speaking about the culture of Kerala to produce quality players, Ashique stated, “There is a lot of passion for football in Kerala. It was there in my family as well. I was supported a lot by them. There are a lot of academies in Kerala and they start young with a lot of children, whose parents are interested in their kids pursuing football as a career.”

“There are a lot of good players who are coming up and a lot of opportunities that they are getting. The passion is there everywhere, even in small towns to big cities, families are very supportive as well,” Ashique added.

Competing in football in a state rich with talent like Kerala can be tough, but his big moment came when he got the chance to feature in the famed Kerala 7s. Speaking of his experience in the tournament that changed his life, he recounted, “Kerala 7s is a very rough-and-tough competition. I was in ninth grade when I started and I felt it was really tough. Although, it was exciting because people came in large numbers. But, there was a fear of injury and having to say to the guardian in my hostel. I learned a lot about my game from there. It’s a great league.”

The journey then led him to sign for FC Pune City with their academy in 2014. Ashique said, “I was supposed to leave for Delhi to play in the U-18 I-League with Garhwal FC. That’s when I got a call from Babu Ikka who changed my mind to come to Pune and attend the trials to join their academy, that was my turning point. When my trials came up, I was told to give my effort and not be disappointed if I didn’t get the opportunity because there would be a lot more of those out there. I was told to enjoy playing.”

Then in 2016, Ashique Kuruniyan was called to play for Villarreal “C” another life-changing experience for him. “When I signed for Pune City, I was told that my video was made and sent to Villarreal and till then I was told to continue performing. I was focused on playing in the ISL and didn’t want to go abroad. I was told about the lifestyle out there and understood what a step up it would be in my career.”

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Speaking on his time in Spain, he added, “The training was different, all the players with me were very young, but were built differently. The players were younger but so mature than me, physically and mentally. I learned a lot as well. It was tough. When I was here, I had my family and my people. There, I was alone and found it tough to adjust to a new country, where you don’t know the people. I used to tell my people here about the same, they used to say that they felt so proud of me and I was complaining about that place. They motivated me to stay and work hard. But, then the injury happened and I had to return, unfortunately.”

The winger made his debut for India in the Intercontinental Cup in 2018 against Chinese Taipei. A profound moment in any professional’s career, he said, “I was so proud, the stadium was packed and it was electric. When the anthem played and the flag was hoisted, it was an unforgettable day. I never felt so happy and proud in my life.”

Owing to his consistent displays, Ashique Kuruniyan has become a staple in the Bengaluru lineup since joining last summer. The player is evidently happy where he is and spoke with great pride at representing the 2018 ISL champions. “I always wanted to play for Bengaluru FC from when I saw them play. When they came to ISL and I got the option to move, I didn’t think twice. I still have a contract and I am committed to performing well for them in the time I am here. If the management decides for me to stay, then I will stay for more years and play to win.”

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“They have the best players in the country, Rahul (Bheke), Udanta (Singh), Gurpreet (Singh Sandhu), and Sunil (Chhetri) bhai and so many others. It is so much fun playing with these people. They are very professional and committed players and are like superheroes for us. To share the dressing room is really motivating for me and I feel privileged to do so. They are a very professional bunch right from the players to the staff to everyone at the club. That is exactly why I wanted to move to Bengaluru FC,” said Ashique Kuruniyan.

Further, Ashique Kuruniyan gave an honest assessment of his performance last season and sees room for improvement in his game as well. “Last year was not so good for me, personally. I made some mistakes and have areas to improve in. I am working on them and will look to perform better this season.”

“I know I can do better and want to keep improving. I have worked hard on my end product in terms of crossing, finishing and improving my overall offensive game. I have so many people to turn to when I want to learn, I share my thoughts with them and they always give me good solutions and help me improve,” he replied.

When asked about his preferred position in the team, the 23-year-old explained his flexibility by saying, “I don’t care which position I’m playing in, as long as I am playing in the team. I am fine with playing on either flank as a winger or a wing-back as well as in an inverted position. I don’t really see a difference in them in terms of work-rate and requirement.”

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