The 22-year-old opened up on a range of topics including his journey in Indian football, favourite coaches and more.

Odisha FC midfielder Vinit Rai joined Anant Tyagi in the latest episode of ‘LetsFootballLive’ on Indian Super League’s Instagram handle. In a live interaction from his home at Dibrugarh, he recalled his grandfather who was a player at Oil India Ltd.

From childhood he was determined to fulfill his grandpa’s dreams of playing on a bigger stage. Talking about his father, Vinit Rai said, “He lets me know all my mistakes and trains six days a week with me. It was him who I had called after getting that first professional career goal against Chennaiyin FC, but papa’s response was quite regular. This made me realize that he feels I can do more and just one goal should not be a big deal for me.”

Upon being asked about the toughest challenges during playing at grassroots level he said, “The main challenge was playing time. I had always wished for a regular position which I got only after joining Delhi Dynamos.” His journey began from Dibrugarh and then he joined the Tata Football Academy in Jamshedpur, where he trained from 2010 to 2014. Later he joined the Goa-based Dempo and then ISL side Kerala Blasters. However, Vinit Rai started only twice in his two years at Dempo SC and twice at Kerala Blasters.

Further, when asked to choose a favourite between Josep Gombau and Steve Coppell, he said, “He (Coppell) pushed me harder every day, where I developed the professionalism. But, I would definitely choose Gombau, as he has nurtured me for two years.”

Talking about his initial season at Delhi Dynamos, he said “Losing 7-8 games in a row was horrible for me, as I was too young. It had a straight impact on my confidence level.” Interestingly, the Dynamos had failed to win their first 11 matches during the ISL 2017-18 season. Later, they went on to win each of the last six games, but that was not enough to save their campaign.

Stating about his journey with Odisha FC till now, he thanked all the fan clubs like Juggernauts, Kalinga Brigade and Eastern Cyclone. “Fans give us that extra bit of energy, the motivation and confidence to play,” he said. “The attendance and fan-following at the Kalinga Stadium was definitely better than at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The audience there is just amazing.”

Speaking about his strike against Chennaiyin FC’s last season, Rai said, “I was emotional because it was the first goal of my professional career. I must thank all my teammates who supplied the ball and a special thanks to Marcos (Tebar) for the assist. Lastly I must thank god for making it possible.” Fans could remember his tears of joy as he netted an absolute stunner at the Kalinga Stadium. “I was waiting for this day from my Dempo days,” he added.

Odisha FC lost a playoffs spot after a few bad games at the end of the season and one obvious reason was Aridane Santana being after suffering an ankle injury. Rai admitted that the injury to their star forward derailed their campaign, despite a late resurgence led by Manuel Onwu. Talking about Aridane’s personality he said, “Santana is a down to earth person. He is 30 and a senior. I have never seen him yelling at anyone.”

Vinit Rai was then asked about how he feel about playing with experienced overseas stars like Tebar, Carlos Delgado, Xisco Hernandez, Onwu and Francisco Dorronsoro. “It’s very much inspiring. Especially, Marcos has great leadership skills. He will never tell you anything in public. He comes to my room whenever he feels to correct my mistakes. Marcos is an absolute gentleman.”

Upon being asked about the changes in Jerry Mawihmingthanga at OFC in the past season, he said “Jerry fits best in Josep Gombau’s style of play. His principles were basically to play from the wing, keep the ball, cross it to the striker, which Jerry liked the most.” With five assists, two goals and six shots on target, Jerry was truly an important asset in Gombau’s plans.

In the final stage of the interview, Vinit Rai answered some rather trivial questions. He said if not a midfielder, he would have been a goalkeeper. “Whenever I played, I requested my teammates to play me as a goalkeeper. I love to fly.”

Before concluding the chat, he had a message for the fans. “Next season we will try to win the trophy and give them all the happiness back which they have lost during the pandemic and cyclone.” When he was asked about his future plans, he said, “I like to live in the present and work hard. Rest is upon God. But, I definitely want to be someone upon whom Indian football can rely for a long period,” concluded Vinit Rai.

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