Trying to be contagious in a good way is the philosophy that Barhtolomew Ogbeche professes in his role as the leading player of North East United FC.
The Nigerian centre forward packs the pedigree of some of the best professional footballers that India has seen since the introduction of the Indian Super League five seasons ago. There is a feeling in the squad that Ogbeche’s inspirational role played a part in getting the team together to realise its maiden play-off qualification as the Nigerian striker scored 12 goals to be the second highest scorer of the tournament so far.
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“On my part I have tried to tell them to believe in themselves and play fearlessly against any opponent. That is a culture that we have been to trying bring up in the side by believing that there is a champion in you. If you think that way then your talent and hard work is going to show in your performance,” Ogbeche tells Sportstar trying to define his role in the side.
The Nigerian possesses an enviable assortment in the repertoire of his professional career that saw him playing some of the best leagues in Europe like the Ligue1, La Liga and English Championship among others. Ogbeche has featured for clubs such as PSG, Real Valladolid and Middlesbrough making him the name his colleagues, especially the Indians, look up to for the right words of motivation.
“I know lot of the guys look up to me so it is all about being contagious in a good way and make them believe to work even harder. That is how our hard work has been paying dividends as I try to be humble as a senior player and show that every day in training. In the matches too I try to give everything that I have. I may have a good or a bad day in the field but your character should not change and you always have to show the hard work on the ground. I feel it is very humbling when I talk to a lot of the young lads in the side,” Ogbeche is conscious about the additional responsibility he has in the side.
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“It is always easy to adapt to a side that has players like (Federico) Galego, (Jose) Leudo and Mato (Grgic). We lost Mislav (Komorski ) injury unfortunately. My partnership with Indian players is alike when it comes to names like (Rowllin) Borges, Putia (Lalthathanga Khawlhring) and Robert (Lalthalmuana). All I try to do is help everyone so that we are on the same page. No one should look up to any one of us as a big star as we are on the same level. It is all being humble and do the hard work,” he added.
When asked about his opinion about how his Indian colleagues have shaped up, Ogbeche says there are a lot of positives to look out for. “We have some really good Indian players who are very talented. As I saw them from the start of the season, they have considerably improved and there are many who are yet to realise their true potential like Lalrempuia Fanai and Girik (Khosla). These players have been really good showing fantastic mentality. As time goes on their future is going to be really good,” is the emphatic reply from Ogbeche.
READ: NorthEast looks to defy odds against 'best Indian club' Bengaluru
The Nigerian striker says that the qualification to the play-offs offers scope for greater optimism and his team should not feel the pressure of playing a big side like Bengaluru FC in the play-offs. “It is an exciting pressure and nothing for us to be sacred of because that is where we wanted to be. We have to fight tooth and nail to be there. Now that we have made the grade, we know that we can go further. We have to now position ourselves to be able to reach the final,” Ogbeche says.
When he is reminded of the fact that North East United never won against Bengaluru FC in the four meetings that it had so far in two seasons, Ogbeche says there is no point in looking back to plan ahead. “We cannot be clouded by what the results in the past have been or what people think about us in that light. We can only change our future and try to do that in the semifinals when we face Bengaluru again,” Ogbeche has the right words for his side.
The Nigerian striker has good words for ISL saying that it is becoming better with every season. “It (ISL) has been a big surprise so far. The league is quite unpredictable which is fantastic for the fans and the players alike. The league is improving but there is lot to be done to make it better. In Europe or in other parts of the world, the No. 1 spot belongs to football and it has been growing there for ages so the scene there is different. Football in India also has a long history but it is not the No. 1 sport here so, it is improving here and doing greatly. I can see it becoming better and better,” is how Ogbeche offers hope to those managing the ambitious project to improve Indian football.
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