Anirudh Thapa: I have improved and can see the progress myself

For Chennaiyin FC midfielder Anirudh Thapa, it has been a Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) season to remember. Despite the Marina Machans faltering at the final hurdle, losing out on the title to ATK FC on the last day of the season, the way the team bounced back from being in a dire state at the beginning of the campaign to making it to the final, will forever be etched in Indian football fans' hearts.

The midfielder from Dehradun had a big role to play in Chennaiyin's incredible run this season. Thapa enjoyed his best season on the personal front yet, raking in six assists and one goal - a belter against League Winners FC Goa in the semifinal first-leg. The midfielder also attempted close to 50 passes per match with a stunning accuracy of almost 75%, establishing himself as the vital link between the defence and Chennaiyin’s scintillating front four of Nerijus Valskis, Rafael Crivellaro, Andre Schembri and his fellow India international Lallianzuala Chhangte. His performances this season often prompted Chennaiyin head coach Owen Coyle to dub him as India's best midfielder - a high praise coming from the accomplished Scotsman.

In a recent interview with the All India Football Federation (AIFF), Thapa opened up about the recently-concluded season and noted, “It was a dramatic season with Chennaiyin. But we couldn't get the happy ending we wanted. I don't focus on my individual performance much, but this season was satisfactory, overall. As compared to the last 2-3 seasons, there has been an improvement and I can see the progression myself. My assists, passing accuracy, fitness levels - have all gone up, which is a positive sign.”

With the off-season settling in, Thapa is currently back home, spending time with his family and preparing himself for the upcoming season. This year's situation, however, is markedly different from past ones, with the ongoing novel Coronavirus (Covid - 19) threat looming large globally.

Illustrating how he has tweaked his pre-established off-season routine to adhere to the precautionary measures which have been put in place to combat the global crisis, Thapa informed, “On a normal day I would go cycling or trekking in the mornings and then in the evenings, I enjoy playing some light football with my friends, which is fun and also helps me stay fit. Now though, I start my day with stretching exercises and later in the day, I do core exercises and at times, yoga as well.”

Reiterating the importance of the recovery process for a footballer during off-season, the youngster added, “It is important to get the right kind of rest. One recovers physically but it takes time to recover mentally. Back-to-back matches, travelling, etc. all takes its toll. It is important to remain fresh mentally. Spending time at home with my family and friends always helps and helps take my mind off football, which helps me get a fresh start.”

The 22-year-old signed off by inviting a collective diligent response from the community to combat the ongoing global crisis together. “It is extremely important to take adequate precautions to stay safe and I encourage everyone to follow the guidelines and play their roles in containing the disease,” he said.

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