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From Malappuram Sevens to Kerala Blasters - Anas Edathodika remembers his roots

04:34 GMT 30/01/2019
Anas Edathodika Kerala Blasters ISL
Kerala Blasters' Anas Edathodika tells Goal about Kerala's footballers, injuries, sevens football, his future and more...

Anas Edathodika is often referred to as a shy footballer outside the field but in reality, he is not so. Having traversed a difficult path in his life to find success, Anas is a person with strong beliefs and self confidence. His experience in Indian football has helped and taught him quite a lot. 

The 31-year-old defender recently announced his retirement from the Indian national team through social media but is still very much an integral part of the Kerala Blasters squad. After impressing at Mumbai FC & Pune FC in the I-League, he believes ISL has given him a platform to improve, just like it has provided opportunities for many other young footballers from Kerala. 

"Kerala has had a lot of young talents even before the arrival of ISL. But ISL has given them opportunities. There have been top players who have not had chances. They have not had people to guide them," Anas said, in an exclusive interview to Goal

"After ISL started, there has been an increase in viewership for football in Kerala. Mothers in households have switched to watching football instead of primetime soaps! Parents are willing to allow kids to play football alongside their academic education."

Anas takes a keen interest in socialising and helping out fellow Kerala footballers. FC Pune City's Ashique Kuruniyan and Kerala Blasters' Sahal Abdul Samad are two of the brightest talents to come from Kerala and both of them look up to Anas a great deal. He is willing to help for those who need it, for he knows exactly how difficult it is to climb the footballing ladder.

"90-95 per cent of young footballers in India are from poor families. I know what my situation was. If they are talented, as a senior player, I wish to help such players."

Looking back at his career, one thing that has let him down is injuries. The defender has spent a lot of time on the sidelines but he hopes things will be better from now on. 

"I believe I have got the chances to play for good clubs in my career, despite my injury and family issues. I have not had to face difficulties from any of the clubs, injuries have happened but that is normal for footballers. 

"Almost all Indian players are committed to their teams, so much so that they are always willing to ignore niggles and continue playing for their team and this might lead to injuries for many. Maybe the small injuries were not treated well in the beginning and they came back.

"Some I-League clubs have good dressing rooms, physio etc but after ISL, Indian football has developed a lot in that aspect (facilities). Now, the medical department is very good. I really want to work hard and play for four years at least. "

Anas was in the limelight for the wrong reasons with his appearances in Sevens football tournaments in pre-season. His decision to play Sevens drew plenty of flak but the defender explained why he cannot say no to sevens football. 

"For me and a lot of players in Malappuram, we came up through sevens football. That is where we learn the toughness of the sport. For us, including someone like Ashique Kuruniyan, we face off against tough, strong foreign strikers at the age of 15 or 16 in Sevens football. 

"I am somebody who has not played much at the district or state level, but I got my experience from Sevens. It taught me what football is and it gave me opportunities. If you grew up with it, you can't avoid it. 

"People may have different opinions, let them opine. They might be saying it for our own good. But there are people who have helped us in some way our personal life in difficult situations. When those people come to us and request us to play for a team sponsored by them, we have to participate. 

"We should also look at the intention of some of these tournaments. Some are organized to collect funds for people in need and when one or two professional players take the field, more people attend the games. There are a lot of such tournaments happening in Kerala.

"When people call you to play for a cause, with everything my family has been through...When my brother was admitted for blood cancer treatment in Regional Cancer Centre (RCC), I played a tournament and the money collected, around 7000 INR, was used for my brother's treatment. When people do such things to help you and I don't help them back, I am a useless person.

"They have done things for my family but most critics don't know about all these things. When they look at us, Anas, Ashique, Zakeer etc are playing sevens football. We are not running around to make more money. "

In what has been a poor season for Kerala Blasters, Anas missed the first few matches for his new club after signing in the summer due to a three-match ban he picked up during a tunnel bust-up in a Super Cup game for Jamshedpur last season. Now his teammate, Zakeer Mundampara, has been served a bigger punishment, a six-month ban, for throwing the ball at the referee after he was sent off against Mumbai City

"I know what I did (inside the tunnel). Even Derrick sir (Derrick Pereira), who was my coach at Pune FC, knows what happened. I had not physically harmed anyone, I stopped people from fighting. 

In Zakeer's case, it is an in-game situation. Kerala Blasters have suffered from refereeing decisions and so players may get frustrated. He reacted, he then said sorry. A fine would have been acceptable but I feel six months is too harsh. A six-month ban can harm a player's career. "

The 2018-19 season of ISL has not gone according to plan for both Anas and the club. It was certainly not what he had hoped for when fans celebrated his 'homecoming' in pre-season. 

"I am not happy with my performances this season. I had big hopes when I signed for Kerala Blasters. I had also hoped to play alongside Sandesh Jhingan (at centre-back) but I missed games due to my ban and then because the team was set with Lakic-Pesic and Jhingan in defence.

"It was difficult for the coach to change the team. Missing the first three games was important, especially at a new club.

"Players have a contract with the club and they are committed to the club. Some seasons could be like this. We have been unlucky, creating chances and missing them. We have worked hard and the atmosphere in the dressing room is good."

Despite rumours linking him to a move away from Blasters, the defender has no plans to do that on his own accord. He has left it to the club to make a decision on his future. 

"I had offers from two clubs but I do not wish to leave the club. The decision regarding my departure lies at the hands of the club. I will accept the decision of the club but I wish to continue here."

Anas Edathodika had a smile on his face throughout the interview, a mark of a person who has dealt with whatever football and life has thrown at him. He also had a response to every single question put to him, which, as told at the beginning of this story, makes him a man with strong beliefs and self confidence.