It was supposed to have been the biggest night of Pronay Halder's football career, walking his national team out wearing the captain's armband for a crucial must-win AFC Asian Cup game against Bahrain. But at the end of the ninety minutes, it turned out to be a nightmare experience.
“I couldn’t sleep for the next two-three days,” recalls Pronay, who conceded the late penalty which eliminated India from the tournament in January. “I felt guilty that I cost the team a place in the knock-outs.”
The defensive midfielder, who captained the side for the first time that night, hasn’t quite been able to put the disappointment of that mistake behind him yet. “Honestly, even now sometimes it flashes in my mind. But at the end of the day, it’s all part of the game. No one blamed me. Sunil (Chhetri) bhai , Sandesh (Jhingan) and the coach (Stephen Constantine) told me that it wasn't my fault. I needed to take it in my stride and move on as a professional,” says the 26-year-old.
Pronay has since lived by those words. Less than a fortnight after that game, he was turning up for his club side ATK in the Indian Super League, which was in the fight for a play-off place.
His coach Steve Coppell characterised his midfield general ‘stoical’ in his demeanour after his return to the club set-up.
“He is very stoical. Not much affected him. I am sure he must have been disappointed but he didn't show it to everybody. He just got on with his job and that was to come back and play for ATK. He is an excellent professional. He still has a big future ahead of him,” said the Englishman.
Since his transfer to ATK at the start of the season, Pronay has become an influential figure in central midfield. In the 13 matches he has started in the ISL, the team conceded just 12 goals, while allowing 10 without him.
In the third match since the international break against FC Pune City, a hamstring injury forced Pronay off the pitch in the 73rd minute and ATK immediately conceded a minute later to draw the game 2-2. The niggle kept him out of the losses against FC Goa and Mumbai City FC, where ATK let in six goals. He returned to the starting line-up in the win against Delhi Dynamos, but the three points weren’t enough to take the club to the play-offs.
He proved his importance for ATK, yet again, in its win 4-3 win over Dynamos in the quarterfinals of the Super Cup on Friday.
After going 1-0 down, it was Pranoy who out-muscled Adria Carmona in midfield to win the ball before passing it to Manuel Lanzarote to set up Balwant Singh for the equaliser. He then put in a composed shift in the second half – five interceptions and two ball recoveries – as ATK kept the Dynamos attackers from finding the fourth goal and an equaliser.
“Pronay has great energy and he was outstanding in the second half. He almost seemed to get a second wind,” said Coppell, after the game.
Unfortunately for Pronay, he will have to cheer his team on from the sidelines in the semifinal after he picked up his second yellow card of the competition.
“We were disappointed that we couldn’t make the top four of the ISL. We are focused on the Super Cup and reach the final. I hope the boys can pull through and reach the finals,” he says.
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