After a breakout 2017-18 season with FC Pune City, Ashique Kuruniyan was the name on everyone's lips as the next Indian football star. The young fleet-footed winger from Kerala had the pace and trickery to beat his marker at will and the spotlight bestowed upon him was well-deserved.
Primarily a winger, Ashique proved that he can be a stand-in wing-back as well during what was a very forgettable season for the Stallions last year. However, things did not go as planned and the 22-year-old, who missed out on a loan stint at Villarreal C due to an injury only three years ago, was injured towards the end of the season.
After missing out on Igor Stimac's India squad during his first few games after taking over as head coach, Ashique was recalled to the national team camp ahead of the World Cup qualifiers. After a lengthy layoff, the youngster is looking to make full use of the chance.
"I got lucky again, after an injury layoff. I received another chance to join the Indian camp ahead of the qualifiers. I need to train well, work on my fitness and try my best to get into the team. Have to prepare well for the World Cup qualifiers," Ashique told Goal. "The other teams in the group are really good. Qatar is really good, we will play them home and away and if I make it to the team, I hope to play well against these teams and learn from the experience.
There have been debates on national team selections over the years but Ashique feels it is the ability of players to adapt to different styles that matters. He made his national debut under Stephen Constantine last year but is banking on his ability to adapt to Stimac's style of play.
"The mode of football under Igor Stimac seems to be modern and fast. We have to play how the coach wants us to play. If I am not able to play the way the coach wants me to play, it means I am a bad player and not that the coach is bad. I have not been part of the training yet so I may struggle initially but I hope to adapt to the methods quickly."
Ashique will be joined at the camp by fellow Keralites Anas Edathodika and Sahal Abdul Samad. He spoke highly of the talent available across Kerala but stressed the need for clubs and academies to develop their skillset.
"There are a lot of quality players in Kerala. When seeing them play, I have often wondered how they can play football the way they play. They don't know how to grow and reach the next level. Kerala needs more clubs and academies so that these footballers can play, there are so many of them who don't know how to get into a club."
The FC Pune City winger, who has one more year left on his contract despite his uncertain future at the club, will be looking to impress Igor Stimac and get into his team against Oman in India's first qualifier on September 5 in Guwahati.