Farukh Choudhary was often the head coach’s go-to man, be it playing for his club teams Jamshedpur FC and later Mumbai City FC or as a reliable presence on the wing for the national team. 

The tricky forward who feels at home in any position across the forward line always formed an integral part of the team’s plans. 

Choudhary's career was on an upward trajectory when he secured a move back to Jamshedpur FC from Mumbai City FC, where he was set to be a big part of Owen Coyle’s plans for the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2021-22 season. 

But the 25-year-old suffered a damaging knee injury that ruled him out of the entire campaign. 

As he slowly recovered and completed his rehab, Jamshedpur FC went on to lift the League Winners’ Shield and the Indian national team successfully qualified for the AFC Asian Cup in his absence. 

It would have been painful for the youngster to miss out, but he is now back, fully fit and with an even greater hunger to make up for lost time. 

Choudhary provides new Jamshedpur FC head coach Aidy Boothroyd with a great option for his forward line and if he can reproduce the level of performance of his pre-injury days, he is certain to give national team head coach Igor Stimac a big selection headache when he sits down to pick the team for next year’s AFC Asian Cup. 

As we close in on the new season, Choudhary spoke at length about his recovery from injury, how his support system got him through the tough period and his expectations from himself and Jamshedpur FC during the upcoming Hero ISL season in an interview to indiansuperleague.com. 

Excerpts from the interview: 

You are back after a long injury layoff? How are you feeling? How close do you feel you are to your full fitness levels?

I am feeling great. I have missed training with the team. I have been training individually for the past eight months. So I am just happy to be back with the team. 

As far as my fitness is concerned, I will understand better once I start playing the games in Hero ISL. I believe that I am close to 90% fit but in order to get that last 10% I will have to play more games where there is pressure like the Hero ISL games. So that's the only test I feel where I can test my fitness. 

It must have been tough mentally during the injury period. Who was your biggest support system during this period? How did your teammates help you?

It was not easy but I took it in a very positive way from the beginning because I had a target. The target was the AFC Asian Cup qualifier games. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to play in that.

Throughout that period my family were always there, and my close friends really helped me get through this. A few of the footballers that are really close to me like Rahul Bheke, Nikhil Poojary, and Karan Amin were constantly in touch with me. They made sure I was okay. 

The main person I would say was there for me was my national team physio Gigy George. Gigy sir has helped me physically, mentally and in every way possible. I spent four months of my rehab in Kerala and I was with him. So, he played a massive role in my rehab in both physical and mental aspects. I feel grateful to him and I feel very lucky that we have a physio like him who can help you in both aspects. 

There is a new head coach at Jamshedpur FC. What is your impression of him and how is he different from Owen Coyle?

Every coach is different when it comes to their tactics. I really like that he believes in us as Owen did. I don't want to compare both of them but I would say he is similar to him in ways he can motivate us. He can get the best out of the team individually and obviously as a team as well.

On the tactical side, there is a bit of a difference that you will understand when you watch our games.

His first impression was good. Obviously, I didn't know him but he met me, spoke about my injury, he made sure that I was okay from the beginning and he has been talking to me and always motivated me and he has been very supportive. 

Greg Stewart has left the club this season, do you feel you need to step up your game in order to fill that void?

I didn't play with Greg (Stewart) because of my injury but from what I've seen of him, he had a very big impact when it came to the attack. But we have brilliant players this season, so it's not about (just forwards) putting in the extra work. I think as a team we all need to do that extra work to win every game because it's a team game and not an individual game. All the players matter. I don't believe that if one player has left the club, it would make a big difference because we have good replacements.

You have a lot of competition for places in the team at Jamshedpur FC in forward areas. Do you feel you have to work extra hard given you are coming back from injury?

Yes, there is no doubt about it. Whether I am coming back from an injury or I am not coming back from an injury, I always make sure that I work hard and I never take my place for granted because you have 4-5 players in each position and you always have to be on your toes and make sure that you give your best every day so that you have your place in your starting XI or get your game time. 

Personally, I think I need to work extra hard as I have to do strength training every day because you need to keep doing strength sessions every day for 6-7 months after an ACL injury and on the pitch as well I need to match the fitness levels of other players.

Have you been in touch with India head coach Igor Stimac? Is making the final AFC Asian Cup squad one of your objectives this season?

My aim has always been to be in the national team no matter whichever tournament we play and that's my ultimate goal. Currently, I am just thinking about getting back to my full fitness and getting back to my game and making sure I get as many games as possible. My ultimate goal is to be in the team and the coach knows everything about my fitness and my rehab. He is in touch with the physio Gigy George sir and also with the club manager. Sometimes he messages me to check up on me but he is completely updated about my situation. He has been very kind and supportive from the beginning and he has been motivating me and telling me that I'll be back. 

You can play all across the forward line but which is your favourite position?

I am naturally a striker but I love playing as a No 10 as well. I prefer that over playing on the wings but I am prepared to play in any position. 

This season the matches will be held around weekends and it will mean there will be a bigger gap between the two matches. In what ways will it benefit the players?

It would help us to recover better because usually, we didn't have so many days where we could recover properly. We usually used to get only three or four days but have eight to nine days as recovery is completely different as the players can give their best in the next game as the players will be totally fresh. So I think it will benefit all the teams.

The fans will be back in the stadium. What was it like playing in front of empty stands and what difference do fans make?

It's massive. I have missed playing in front of fans. The first season inside the bubble was completely weird because I have never played without the fans in Hero ISL. The fans make a lot of difference when it comes to motivation when your team is down and you need that extra push. 

The fans are everything. Without fans, you cannot enjoy football. This year is going to be great for everyone because the fans are going to be there to support you.