I-League outfit Chennai City FC has had a mixed season of sorts, finishing eighth in the league with 19 points from 18 games. They had to shift their base to Coimbatore from Chennai before the season and had to overcome several logistical nightmares with respect to the pitch conditions at their new base.
However, the Rohit Ramesh-owned outfit managed to preserve their spot in the country's top-tier league. They have had their moments during the season, including a win over Mohun Bagan in Kolkata, and a couple of players have really stood out. Michael Soosairaj, of course, was voted the Best Midfielder in the League but it was Sinivasan Pandiyan who played a pivotal role in his teammate getting all the freedom to wreak havoc in the opposition defence.
Pandiyan anchored the Chennai City midfield with aplomb and stood out for his tenacity and assuredness on the ball. Credit must go to Chennai City FC for having spotted the 22-year-old from the local league in Chennai (Chennai Football Association Senior Division League) where he was playing his trade for Viva Chennai.
"I was playing for Viva Chennai in the CFA when they scouted me. They took me and S Rajapandi from Viva Chennai," Pandiyan told Goal in an exclusive chat. "The players at Chennai City FC knew me because they also had a team in the CFA. They called me first and then the club approached me."
Pandiyan hails from Thanjavur, which is famous for temples, and is a product of Noble Football Academy in Karaikudi where his talent was spotted by former Indian striker Raman Vijayan.
"Thanjavur is my hometown. My brother was a football player and he went on to join Noble Football Academy in Karaikudi. He took me to the academy as well where we were coached by Raman Vijayan sir. I studied and practised there till I finished my high school and then moved to Chennai for college studies. I played for Indian Bank and Viva Chennai then.
"I have been playing midfield from my childhood."
Despite performing well in what was his debut season in India's top-tier, Pandiyan struggled initially to assert himself but soon took to the task like a bird takes to the skies.
"It was difficult at first because it was a new level altogether. I couldn’t play that well but I started to improve my game as the season went by. I adjusted to the I-League level soon and I’m very happy that I could play at such a level," he stated.
"We lost the first game of the season 3-0 against the Indian Arrows and we couldn’t settle into our game. We got our rhythm only after that initial phase.
"We then beat Mohun Bagan and then we went on a run of draws at home. A lot of matches we drew rather than losing. Perhaps, it was bad luck and I guess it happens. But everybody praised our performances in those games."
But Chennai City FC managed to stave off relegation by picking up two wins in their final three games. However, they would come up short in the qualifiers of the Super Cup where they were pitted against Indian Super League (ISL) side ATK.
Though the game ended 4-1 in ATK's favour, Pandiyan feels there wasn't much difference between the two sides and in general I-League and ISL sides.
"I think ISL teams are just a bit more technical than us and they are better sides. But we can definitely compete with them."
The confident youngster that he is, Pandiyan feels it was easy for him to play against an ISL team and feels ready to step up to the ISL if given a chance.
"I think there are a lot of good players in the I-League and we play against them. I thought it was easy for me as an opponent while playing an ISL team. I think it will be easier to play in an ISL team for me.
"I think I can adapt to ISL very easily. That belief is very much there (after the Super Cup game)."
Pandiyan reveals that while he doesn't have any specific role models that he looks up to, he regularly watches midfielders in the ISL and tries to learn from their game, revealing a studious streak in him.
"I watch the midfielders in every team like Dhanpal Ganesh and Zakeer Mundampara etc. I watch what they are doing and I think what I can do differently there."
The youngster has certainly made some big strides this season and has his sights set on making himself a recognisable name in Indian football. The belief is very much evident in his words.
"I badly want to play for India and play in the ISL. I think every Indian player wants to represent the national team. I have also thought about it (for sure) and I hope to get recognition and make it big in Indian football. I am striving hard to do so that."