The former Irish international represented Kerala Blasters for a season in 2016.

On Friday, former Indian player Ishfaq Ahmed, who currently serves as the assistant coach of Kerala Blasters, caught up with his ex-Blasters teammate Aaron Hughes via an Instagram live session that was broadcast by the club. Hughes, who is also a former captain of Northern Ireland, spoke to Ishfaq on a host of topics including his stint with the Kochi-based club.

“I appreciate the fact that fans still remember me,” he said, before adding, “I miss all my teammates at Blasters. With them, it wasn’t only about playing football as a team – we were also like a family.”

“It wasn’t just about me – at times, I also found myself relying on experienced players like you (Ishfaq), Cedric (Hengbart), (Graham) Stack and so on. It was always good to talk with you all. Although, we reached the final that season (2016), things were not always very good. We had to cope with a lot of issues in the background and make sure that they did not reflect our performances on the pitch.”

“We started the season with a loss (against North East United) and as the season progressed, we lost more matches than we won. Later, we made a good comeback and went all the way till the final,” the 40-year-old recollected. “Living together as a team for three months helped us know each other very well and that converted to good performances on the pitch as well. So, I would like to remind everyone that the margins on the football ground are actually much smaller than you think and it is what you do off the pitch that counts more.”

The former Newcastle and Fulham star has made 455 Premier League appearances in his career, but Aaron Hughes revealed that it did not matter in India, as playing in the Indian Super League (ISL) was a different experience altogether.

“Once I signed for Kerala Blasters, I had no expectations. I really didn’t know what to expect, so I joined the club with an open mind. I did talk to a few players who had previously played for them – such as Peter Ramage. He gave me an idea about the club and also mentioned how supportive the fans are, so I was looking forward to playing for them.”

“When I finally got my first chance to play for the club at home, I realized that it was a brilliant experience. Kerala has always remained at the top when it comes to the footballing atmosphere in India – and that is something I still keep talking about, whenever someone asks me about my experience in India.”

Ishfaq then asked about Hughes’ most memorable goal in the ISL, to which he replied: “It has to be that header against FC Pune City. You know how I always tend to stay in the defensive half whenever we have a set-piece, to fend off any counter-attack from the opponents. But, just before the match against Pune, I had convinced the coach (Steve Coppell) that I should probably start attacking more, as it had been a while since I scored my last goal.”

“So, when we had a corner in the second half, I went forward to attack. The corner was only partially cleared by Pune and CK Vineeth crossed the ball to me at the far post. I only had to turn it in from there, I knew I had to score this, but because it won the game for us, because it was in front of our home fans and also because it was my first goal for the club, it will remain one of the most important goals I’ve scored in my career,” he further added.

Aaron Hughes also revealed that he is still working hard to get a UEFA coaching licence. “Right now, I am only a UEFA ‘B’ licenced coach,” he said, before adding, “I am working to get my UEFA ‘A’ licence which will ideally be issued to me by the end of the year.”

“I am also doing a sports management course with UEFA, as I am also looking at the technical director side of football. Essentially, I am looking at football both on and off the pitch,” he signed off.

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