The India international also expressed confidence that the Blue Tigers can qualify for the World Cup in 2026…

Pritam Kotal has grown into arguably the best right-back in Indian football in recent years, with the 23-year-old’s determination and hard work paying off after Delhi Dynamos made him a first round pick in the Indian Super League Draft. Kotal has travelled around the world and played with the absolute best the country has to offer in the past few years and has been on the rise after impressing for Mohun Bagan.

Kotal made the right-back spot his own after signing for the Mariners and went on to play a pivotal role in their I-League success in 2015. The versatile full-back has also made an impact for the Indian National Team after making his debut that same year. He is no stranger to the ISL and has played for two teams in FC Pune City before donning the colours of ATK last year and helping them win their second ISL crown.

Also Read: Delhi Dynamos squad capable of challenging for the ISL title: Pritam Kotal

He’s grown into an extremely experienced customer in Indian football and despite being only 23, his impressive showcase over the years earned him a spot among the Delhi Dynamos in the ISL Draft. Kotal embarks on a new journey in the nation’s capital in a few months time. He had a chat with Khel Now a day prior to his birthday and spoke openly on a variety of subjects.

We started off by asking him about how he was introduced to the beautiful game to which he replied, “My whole family is addicted to football. My uncle was a footballer himself and that definitely helped me get introduced to football. I’ve been in love with the game ever since I was a child and started playing from when I was in class IV. It was after giving my 10th standard examinations that I saw football as the thing I wanted to pursue as a profession.”

Kotal played for a long time for the Green-and-Maroons and was a constant at the right side of the pitch

Kotal was selected in the India U-19 National Team and got the much-needed exposure at the qualifiers for the 2012 AFC U-19 Championships, before playing for the U-23 Team at the 2014 Asian Games. We asked him about his experiences at these tournaments and how it helped him grow as a player to which he answered, “Yes, absolutely! Playing for the U-19 team helped me the most as it helped me move to Pailan Arrows where I got the exposure of playing on the biggest stage.”

Kotal started off as a defensive midfielder before reverting to a right-back role and we asked what made him change his position to which he said, “I started off as a defensive midfielder. I could play as a midfielder or a defender, but after getting selected for the U-19 squad, my position was changed to right-back and that’s when I started to play as a right-back on a full-time basis.”

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On being asked about his thoughts about playing for Dynamos this season Kotal said, “It feels really good. Delhi (Dynamos) did very well in the draft. The coach is also very good. They reached the semi-finals last year and obviously we will try to go all the way this season. I’ll try my best to help them this year and will also try to improve my game.”

Upon being asked about his expectations for the season, Kotal said, “Obviously we will try to deliver positive results. My target is to feature consistently for the national team.” We also asked him how he feels the Dynamos squad is shaping up, to which he replied, “Of course the players we bought in the draft along with the foreigners we signed are very good. I think if everyone sticks together and work hard, we will definitely bring good results. Obviously, we will give our 100% and our target will be to go all the way, but nobody can really predict anything in this game.”

Being drafted to a completely new team, it can sometimes be difficult for the players to gel together. We asked Kotal about how much of a task it’ll be for them to find that chemistry together, he replied, affirmatively. “We have to work together, not only on the field but off it as well. We have to eat together, spend time with each other in order to know each other. As it’s a completely new squad for us, we have to do all these together in order to not have problems during the games. It’s not really difficult for professional players because new teams and new players come together everywhere and as soon as we get to know each other, we’ll do okay.”

We asked him about which players in the Lions’ team he’s most excited to link-up with when the season begins and he chose a lot of young names. “Obviously there’s Seityasen (Singh) and there’s Romeo (Fernandes) who are players in my side of the field. There’s Lallianzuala Chhamgte and a lot of other players I’m excited to link-up with.”

Kotal was one of the stand-out performers for the eventual champions last season, ATK

After playing in West Bengal for almost the entirety of his career, it may be difficult for Kotal to adapt to his new environment. We asked him about this and he had something very interesting to say, “It’ll be a challenge to play outside Kolkata after such a long time. But, now my objective is to give my best for Delhi and make their fans happy. They came very close to lifting the trophy last season and I’ll try my best to help them become champions this season. Maybe there will be problems at first for me when it comes to adapting, but that itself is my real challenge to make sure these problems never arise.”

Kotal may have played for FC Pune City and ATK in the ISL, but this season will be longer than the previous ones. We asked the India International how he feels the longer campaign will affect the teams and how he plans to adapt to which he replied, “It’s actually good for the players that the season will be longer, as there will most likely be only one match per week because of the newer teams being introduced and that will give some much-needed rest to us. The players’ development will improve due to this long season and players will get more rest and play in  better condition helping us give our 100%.”

The ISL has been rather polarizing when it comes to the developmental of Indian football and we asked Kotal about whether the league is actually good for the Indian game to which he replied, “The ISL helps Indian football improve because of the world-class coaches and state of the art facilities, including the grounds which it provides and I think this is good for the players and is helping them improve as well.”

Kotal played almost four seasons at Bagan before he signed for Delhi Dynamos in the draft and we asked him how difficult it’ll be for him to move on from the Mariners to which he replied a little emotionally, “Obviously it’s very difficult for me to leave Mohun Bagan. But I cannot really do anything as we all have to look ahead and move forward in our careers. I played at this club for four years, but as a professional, I have to perform my duty and concentrate on my new team.”

He played under Sanjoy Sen for many years at Bagan and we asked how much his former tactician helped him grow as a player. Pritam said, “Sanjoy Sir obviously helped me a lot during these four years as he helped me realize some of my mistakes and improve as a right-back. Last year I played almost every match for him and he used to point out some of the mistakes I made on the pitch and help me sort out those mistakes as well by pointing out where I should concentrate on improving and this obviously benefitted me a lot.”

Kotal is widely considered as the best right-back in Indian football right now and we asked the man himself about his thoughts on this accolade to which he responded, “I’m pleased with many considering me as the best. But my personal belief is that I have to work hard and consistently play well. I do consider myself as the best right-back in India and this is my confidence, not overconfidence, but I have to continue playing well and hold onto the top spot.”

His stint at FC Pune City will help him in settling in a new city outside Kolkata, a region where he has spent most of his football career

We asked him how he has liked to play under India manager Stephen Constantine and his experience working with the Englishman to which he answered, “I have had a wonderful experience playing under Stephen Sir. Also, he only has one motto which is to give the absolute 100% on the pitch. He makes us believe that giving 100% during training will automatically help us give our best during the major games. He also helps me with my defending, like how to stop an attacker and these things are really helpful.” We further asked him what he thinks makes Constantine so successful to which he said, “Obviously, hard work! There is only one answer and that is hard work and there’s nothing bigger than that.”

The national team is working hard to qualify for the AFC Asia Cup 2019 and we asked Kotal about its importance. “For me, qualifying for the Asian Cup is of utmost importance. We’ve cracked into the top 100 so it’s extremely important that we target qualification for the Asian Cup,” said Kotal, “If we can qualify for it, then India’s ranking will get even better so it’s crucial for us to secure the qualification.” Upon being asked whether qualification for the 2026 World Cup is a possibility, Kotal, “We will try our hardest to make it a reality. We are slowly improving and we’ll only get better in the future, so maybe we’ll play the World Cup in 2026. Why not?”

Asked who were his idols when he was growing up, a lightened up Kotal said, “Deepak Mandal in Indian football. When it comes to international football, Dani Alves and Phillip Lahm were a big inspiration. Maybe I can’t play exactly like them as nobody wants to copy anyone else, but I tend to notice their style of defending, the way they attack, the way they cross the ball and how they try to create goals and I try to improve my game by watching them. I do not want to copy them, but I tend to notice what kind of technique they are using.”

Also Read: How Delhi Dynamos may line up in ISL IV

We also asked him about the best players he has played with and his toughest opponents to which he replied, “There’s a lot actually. Iain Hume, Sunil Chettri are among the best I’ve played alongside. When it comes to the toughest players, Emiliano Alfaro is there and Hume as well.”

Indian football has grown leaps and bounds in recent years and we asked Kotal to tell us one thing which can help it move forward. “We should concentrate on youth development. The growth and development of youngsters can definitely help us move forward,” said the man with a calm demeanour. 

Finally, we asked Kotal about his biggest strengths and an aspect of his game he thinks he should improve to which he replied, “My biggest strength is the never-say die attitude. An aspect which I need to improve on is bringing more consistency in my game.”