Iain Hume: Giving my all for the team and fans is something I take pride in

Hero of the League in the inaugural season, a Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) champion in 2016, two-time finalist, one of the most prolific goal scorers in the competition's history and a lot more - very few players have tasted the success Iain Hume has in the Hero ISL since its inception. Having played five seasons, two each with ATK FC and Kerala Blasters FC and one with FC Pune City, the Canadian international took up a punditry role in Hero ISL 2019-20 and was an instant hit among the fans off the field too.

Hume recently caught up with Anant Tyagi in the fifth edition of Let’s Football Live to talk about his time in the Hero ISL, his title-winning campaign, the evolution of the competition and much more. Here are some of the highlights from the session:

How the journey started

Having started his Hero ISL journey with Kerala Blasters back in 2014, the striker shed some light on his introduction to the league. “I had a couple of interviews, but then I thought it's time for an adventure. I got a call from the Hero ISL management, who said we would love to have a Canadian player in the mix as they had all Spanish and Brazilians players. However, I didn't have any other contact until the morning after the draft, when I found out that the coach and marquee player for Kerala will be David James. Michael Chopra, and Jamie McAllister, with whom I played with previously, were also there. These guys it made so easy for me because they all had a similar upbringing coming through the English system, especially because going to the other side of the world not knowing anybody is not easy at all.”

Hume was perhaps the biggest influence behind driving Kerala to the final in his debut season in India but unfortunately lost out in the title decider to ATK. He did, however, clinch the Hero of the League award that season.

Title-winning campaign with ATK

Having jumped ship from Kerala to ATK the following season, Hume finished second on the goal-scoring charts in Hero ISL 2015, with his team losing to eventual champions Chennaiyin FC in the semi-finals. The Canadian international was also the second-highest goal scorer in Hero ISL 2016, but this time helping ATK go all the way to claim their second Hero ISL trophy in three years. Reminiscing, Hume said, “I think in the Hero ISL 2015 season, our team was arguably the best team that's been in the Hero ISL. I genuinely think on paper and on the field, we played some of the most attractive football. We had that little bit extra with only one bad game that season.

"Going into the next season, I think the key to our success was keeping the bulk of the key players. Bringing in players like Henrique Sereno and retaining Helder (Postiga), I think these were masterstrokes. People say we didn't play as attractive football as we did in the previous season, but that comes with managerial changes. We brought in a former goalkeeper in Molina as our head coach. So naturally, we concentrated on defensive football. I think if you look at our defence through that season, I think it was one of the best."

"But we knew that when we had the opportunities going forward, we were going to flourish. And I think we obviously proved important in the end. It wasn't the prettiest of finals (against Kerala Blasters) for the average Joe watching from home, but it was a game of two teams who didn't want to lose. Thankfully, we triumphed at the end," added Hume recounting ATK's title-winning 2016 season after a hard-fought final against his former team Kerala in a final which went to the penalties.

The Kochi experience

That final incidentally was played at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi - a venue at which Hume established himself as a fan-favourite during his two stints with Kerala, first in 2014 and then again in the 2017-18 campaign. “I don't think I've been in the stadium when it's been anything but incredible, and that's saying a lot. It's, it's hard to say in words, especially when they're behind you. When you come in there and it's like, even with ATK when we played the Hero ISL season three final there, it was so hard to play because they were so loud you couldn't hear the players from 10 feet away. It's a tough place to go and play when you're on the opposition team but when they're behind you, it's just incredible,” said Hume, illustrating his incredible experience playing at Kochi, both in Kerala colours and as an opposition player.

The evolution of the Hero ISL

Having been involved with the Hero ISL, first as a player and then a pundit, Hume has seen the rise of the league from its inception in 2014. On the progression of the Hero ISL through the years, he noted, “When you start bringing in quality foreign players in their mid-20s and you put them alongside the likes of (Anirudh) Thapa, or Rowllin (Borges) or Lenny (Rodrigues), then you can potentially keep them together for the next four or five years. That also benefits the younger players a lot. The continuity and the partnerships that you can create, I think it's only for the benefit of Indian football because then, you continue to progress.”

Adding to this, the striker cited the example of FC Goa’s Lenny Rodrigues, and stated, “Look at the progression of Lenny over the last couple of years and you can credit it to players like (Ahmed) Jahouh and (Hugo) Boumous and Edu Bedia. They've made them into such a better player, not saying he wasn't a good player, but knowing the kind of his role in the team. The continuity and the consistency, you can see the benefit. In an ideal world bringing in players in their mid-20s and keeping them for four or five seasons, I think that would be the perfect picture. I think for the future of the game (in India), bringing in younger players is better for long term than bringing in older players.”

Future of the India national team:

The progression of the Hero ISL over the last six years have also been intrinsically tied with the progress of the Indian national team. Hume, having witnessed that closely, noted, “I think it’s come a long way when you look at the world rankings, they've risen so quick. I think you look at the squad now, when you've got Sunil (Chhetri) still in there, you still stand a chance. But now you have the likes of Udanta Singh, Ashique Kuruniyan, a young kid. You've got Thapa coming through. For me one boy who should be in there soon after this season, is Prabir Das, and even Pritam Kotal. Sandesh Jhingan is going to be hungry to come back now after his knee injury, he's a team leader.”

Adding to this, the striker seemed confident about the future of the national team, and tipped them for success in the near future. “I think it's set up very well for the next four or five years. I think they'll have the mainstay of a squad, and I think they are in a very good spot right now. I still think there's a long way to go because the AFC is such a hard Confederation to get out of and it's going to be tough. With Igor Stimac coming in, I think he's definitely got an opportunity to be onto something special.

His popularity among the fans

Having plied his trade for three clubs in five seasons, Hume established himself as a fan favourite wherever he played. Asked the secret behind him earning the fans’ adoration so consistently, the Canadian replied, “I give everything. It’s the type of player I am, on and off the pitch. You know, I’m giving my 100% to the team. As a football fan myself, it’s something I respect. I have had a good rapport with all the fans I’ve played with. So, this is something I take pride in. I think the passion is something that’s drawn the fans in. I think I've had a good rapport with the fans in every club I've played for, so it's something I’m proud about during my career.”

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