ISL 2016: Diego Forlan 'never turns us away', says Mumbai City FC's Sehnaj Singh
'ISL has been a great experience. All of us are enjoying and it would be even better in the future,' Mumbai Cuty FC's Sehnaj Singh said.
For any venture to be successful, you need the artisans as much as the artists. Argentina need a Lionel Messi to be the best side in the world, but they also need a Javier Mascherano. The World Cup-winning Brazilian side in 2002 needed an unassuming but incredibly effective Gilberto Silva to break opponents' attacks in the midfield and win balls for his team, so that Rivaldo-Ronaldo-Ronaldinho could run riot upfront.
And Mumbai City FC, who have had a dream run in this season of the Indian Super League (ISL) so far, would attribute a large part of their success to their midfield enforcer Sehnaj Singh, whose solidity, allows the Diego Forlans and Sunil Chhetris of the world to express themselves.
Sehnaj shot to limelight last season of the ISL when he scored an absolute screamer from 40-yards out against Kerala Blasters, which helped his team Delhi Dynamos secure a thrilling, last gasp 3-3 draw. Even Roberto Carlos, the then coach of Delhi, couldn't conceal his joy at the strike. It would surely have reminded Carlos of himself. Sehnaj had also won the I-League with Mohun Bagan in 2014-'15.
We caught up with the man himself on the eve of the first leg of Mumbai's playoff against the formidable Atletico de Kolkata (ATK), to discuss Mumbai's fantastic run, his experiences of working with Roberto Carlos and Diego Forlan, and Indian football in general, among other things, and were amazed by his candour. Here is an excerpt of Sehnaj's conversation with Firstpost over the phone:
This has been quite a successful season for Mumbai City FC. You are at the top of the table. What worked well for you in ISL-3?
First of all, the foreigners and Indian players in our team worked very well together. We have a very good coach (Alexandre Guimaraes). The medical team supported us. We were all one family. That is the reason we are in the semifinals and hopefully will win the final too.
You had played in Punjab earlier and had also represented Delhi Dynamos in the ISL. It has been a trend in north India for sometime that you don't get big crowds in stadiums. We have seen that in Delhi during this season of the ISL too. If you compare with cricket, the interest is a bit less for football in the north, unlike places like Bengal, Kerala, Goa, or the NorthEast. What do you think needs to be done to raise interest for football in north India?
You are right. There isn't a lot of interest for football from where I come from. Even in Delhi, the craze for football is not what it should have been. The interest is more in cricket. This is because we don't have an I-League team (from the region), and there is only Delhi Dynamos in the ISL. With more teams, the craze will increase. A greater number of academies would raise the interest levels among youngsters. We are hearing Minerva will come into the I-League from Punjab. The more teams in the I-League from the north the better. Kolkata is regarded as the hub of football in India. We get big crowds in Kerala. It should happen in every state.
Kolkata, as you agree, is the hub of football in India, and you had played for Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan, and played very well too. Playing in Kolkata and in a haloed club like Mohun Bagan is a dream come true for any footballer. What was your experience of Kolkata and Mohun Bagan?
I had a great experience in Kolkata. I had played for Mohun Bagan and we won the I-League. I have always enjoyed playing there.
You have played under Roberto Carlos for the Delhi Dynamos last season in the ISL, and this year you are being coached by Guimaraes. Both of them have played in World Cups, and Guimaraes has even managed a team at the World Cup. How would you compare the coaching styles of Carlos and Guimaraes?
Actually, Carlos didn't have a lot of coaching experience, but Guimaraes is experienced. Carlos is a very good human being and a player, but as a coach, I can't compare him with Guimaraes.
Tell me about your experience of sharing the dressing room and the pitch with a player of the stature of Diego Forlan, who has been a Golden Ball winner in the World Cup. What did the Indian players learn from him in terms of passing, positioning, movement with the ball and off the ball, and so on?
We had a great experience. He has always been a guide for us, both on and off the field. Whenever we have wanted to discuss football with him, he has explained things very well, and has never turned us away. He is a very good human being.
Sunil Chhetri would also have had a huge influence on the team...
Absolutely. He joined the team only recently. There are other experienced players in our team, like Anwar Ali and Lucian Goian. All of them are quite helpful and guide the juniors.
You have played in the I-League, you are playing in the ISL and have also represented India in international football. What do you think is the biggest challenge for Indian football at the moment? What do we need to do?
We need to increase the number of teams in the I-League. There is talk that the ISL may also see two-three more teams. That will be good for Indian football.
And what would you say about the influence ISL has had especially on Indian players?
It has been a great experience. All of us are enjoying and it would be even better in the future.
Mumbai have a big playoff coming up against Atletico de Kolkata, which is one of the most consistent teams in the ISL, and it is also an away match for you (on 10 December). What are the plans going into that match?
There is no particular plan. Kolkata is a good side. They have good players - both foreigner and Indian. We would give our very best.
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