Deepak Tangri started his journey for Indian Arrows as a centre-back, partnering Anwar Ali at the heart of defence. His impressive tackling attributes along with his superior aerial ability meant he was comfortable as a central defender.
But then head coach Luis Norton de Matos decided to shake things up in the middle and deployed Tangri as a defensive midfielder for the first time against the mighty East Bengal at the Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi. The Red and Golds had Katsumi Yusa and Mahmoud Al-Amna in their ranks and the Portuguese coach thought that fielding Tangri in midfield would add more steel at the centre of the park.
"It was no doubt difficult. I was finding it difficult to get in the right positions. It was Sukhan's (Prabhsukhan Gill) first match as well. But both us were like yehi mauka hai, we have to prove ourselves. Looking back, I think that match was the turning point in my life," told a retrospective Tangri to Goal.
The 20-year old has been an assuring presence for Floyd Pinto in midfield and his partnership with Amarjit Singh bloomed with every passing match. Tangri would usually operate from a deeper position and would take up the role of a destroyer which allowed Amarjit more freedom to move forward and join the attack. He is not afraid of plunging into tackles and his knack of recovering possession made him an invaluable asset to Indian Arrows.
"To tell the truth, I approached the role of the centre defensive midfielder as a stopper. In defence, you are not that much mobile, but playing as a defensive midfielder helped me express myself better as I love to have the ball. Moreover, in midfield you make a mistake, there's a possibility that your team-mate will be there to cover but in defence, a mistake can turn very costly. Although I enjoy both the positions, I am more comfortable as a midfielder."
Tangri has notched up more than 1000 minutes of top-tier professional football in both the I-League seasons that he has participated and he has never looked out of place as he rubbed shoulders against some of the most experienced and finest midfielders plying their trade in I-League.
"I have always played with the seniors. During my time in Chandigarh Football Academy (CFA), I used to practice with Nishu Kumar, Daniel Lallhimpuia and Gursimrat (Singh). Then when I was in Mohun Bagan SAIL Academy Douglas Sir (Douglas D'Silva) would always put me with the U19 boys even though I was much younger to them. So, mentally it was not difficult for me to adapt. Playing in I-League has helped me to mature faster. You develop a stronger mentality and you don't break down in pressure situations."
The youngster has had offers from Mohun Bagan and a couple of other Indian Super league (ISL) clubs but he chose to stay with Indian Arrows.
"I did not join Mohun Bagan because I was playing as a centre-back. Most professional teams prefer senior or overseas player in those positions. I would not have got much game time. So I think I made the right choice," explains Tangri.
But after spending two seasons with the Arrows he feels that he is ready for a bigger challenge that lies ahead of him in the ISL with Chennaiyin FC.
"I always wanted to be in Chennaiyin. I was so happy when I finally got an offer from them. During the pre-season, I played in a friendly against Chennaiyin and during that time Gregory Sir told me that 'come to Chennaiyin we will win the third trophy together.' That gave me huge confidence.
"The level of competition for a place will be very high in ISL. Till now, I was in a junior team but for a place in Chennaiyin, I have to give more than 100%. I have to prepare differently for that. Pre-season becomes very important. I have to give my all during that time," said Tangri.
There is no doubt that the Punjab-born midfielder must put his best foot forward to impress Gregory as Chennaiyin is a team which is already stacked with three quality players in the defensive midfield position- Anirudh Thapa, Dhanapal Ganesh and Germanpreet Singh. But Tangri is once again ready to wait for his mauka and make the best possible use of it.