Anirudh Thapa, 22, is fast emerging as a leader at both the club and international stage in Indian football. His former coach Owen Coyle described him as the best Indian midfielder in the country’s the top division, the Indian Super League (ISL), last season. The former Premier League manager was effusive with his praise: “The better he plays, the better the team becomes.”

On the back of playing a key role in Chennaiyin FC’s stirring late run last season, when the club agonisingly fell short in the final, Thapa is keen on “taking up more responsibility.”

“I want to ensure I’m putting my best foot forward to help the team win. I need to focus on improving my game in an all-round aspect, and absolutely remove any tiny errors, too. We must grab the match by the scruff of the neck and create a winning mentality,” Thapa said.


Chennaiyin will have its third head coach in the last 12 months. Despite the shortened preseason and the logistical hurdles presented due to the global pandemic, Thapa feels the team is shaping up well under Romanian Csaba Laszlo. “We have been training hard under the new coach and his staff. There’s a lot of focus on tactics and an organised approach to buildup play. The preseason has been good, despite the shorter duration, and we’re eagerly waiting to get the ball rolling in our first match,” Thapa said.


Former Chennaiyin boss Coyle labelled Thapa as the best Indian central midfielder in the league season. - ISL/Sportzpics


The central midfielder identified the team’s versatility as its biggest strength. “It’s good that the core of our Indian contingent is intact from last season, with solid additions in Reagan (Singh) bhai and Fanai (Lalchhuanmawia) bhai . Moreover, we have Eli (Sabia) and Rafa (Rafael Crivellaro) continuing with us, who were among the most influential foreigners. We have many versatile additions, with a real focus on youngsters who can shape the game.”

While Chennaiyin has previously overcome poor starts to win two ISL titles and reach one more final, Thapa stressed on the need for a stronger beginning to the new season. “Our club’s history gives us motivation, but we don’t want that (poor start) to become a trend. We have to be at our best from the word go,” he said.

Thapa and Chennaiyin had a bitter taste of playing in a closed-door final, which the side lost to ATK, in the early days of the pandemic in March. “It was a bit strange, to play without fans, especially on a big occasion like a final. But after the first few minutes, you’re fully zoned in. So for the season ahead, we are more ready in that aspect. We’ve known all along it’ll be the case. Maybe the first few games will take getting used to, but after that, it shouldn’t make much of a difference. We still know the fans are watching back home, and we want to put on a solid show,” he said.