Rahim Ali interview: Playing for Chennaiyin FC has given me a great platform to improve my ability

Chennaiyin FC forward Rahim Ali has been making a mark ever since his Hero Indian Super League (ISL) debut in the 2019-20 season after showing his excellence with Indian Arrows in the I-League and with the U-17 Indian national team at the FIFA U-17 World Cup.

Ali was a starter in the Marina Machans’ 2021-22 campaign where he scored two goals and had two assists in 18 games. The 22-year-old, who claims he’s still in the early stages of the game, is ready to face new challenges and eager to prove himself worthy for a place in the Indian men’s national team.

The forward missed crucial ties after picking up a severe injury that ruled him out for several months, but is now back on his feet and waiting for the season to begin.

Ahead of the forthcoming Hero ISL 2022-23 season, Ali spoke about his Hero ISL journey with Chennaiyin FC, his experience with the Indian national team, and a lot more in an exclusive interview with indiansuperleague.com

How did you improve yourself after joining Chennaiyin FC in 2019? Who helped you the most in this improvement?

I had got an offer from Chennaiyin FC and I was aware that they are two-time Hero ISL champions. So, they were building a great team and were hungry for more trophies which is what got me interested in them, to play for such a club. My target is also to win a trophy with Chennaiyin FC.

It has also been a great platform for me to improve my footballing ability. Many players like Thapa [Anirudh], Rafael Crivellaro, Eli Sabia and Lucian Goian have helped me a lot, encouraged me to develop my playing style. I have learned a lot from them and there’s still more to learn because I’m still young.

The role you play is generally dominated by foreigners in Hero ISL. Do you think it makes your challenge tougher? How do you handle this challenge psychologically and technically?

It has always been a challenge to beat a guy who plays in the same position as you. I push myself everyday because I know the foreign players are better than me, that is why they are playing here in the Hero ISL. It is a challenge and to overcome that challenge, I have to be dedicated, work hard, and keep myself humble.

Tell us something about your early football life. How did you get the call to join the Indian Arrows in 2017?

I played the Coca-Cola cup for my state West Bengal after which I was selected for the Indian Arrows team. I started playing football at the age of 6-7. My brother also played football at that time and that inspired to get into football, to go to the ground and get started. I started going to the ground but had no support from my family.

Later on, I started receiving support from my family and started playing tournaments like Coca-Cola Cup representing Mohun Bagan following which I got selected for the national team which kickstarted my footballing journey.

What's your take on watching the Indian team winning three matches on the trot to qualify for the Asian Cup 2023? What do you think are the expectations from the National team?

I was disappointed to not be a part of that Indian national team because of my injury, but it’s football, injuries are a part of it and they come and go. But I’m incredibly happy with the way our team performed and their qualification into the AFC Asian Cup.

I went to see the team play and I was amazed by their performances. I feel very proud of this team, and I have faith in myself that I’ll be a part of this team in the near future by continuing to work hard and by staying humble.

You have played six matches for India. How was your journey in the national team till now?

I have played six matches for the national team but it hasn’t been easy for me, so whenever I get the chance, I give my best on the pitch. Whenever I’m alongside Chhetri bhai [Sunil], I enjoy it a lot because Chhetri is that kind of a person who encourages everyone to enjoy the game which makes it easier to play.

He supports not just me but everyone in the team during matches, in-between training sessions. An experienced and a senior player like him motivating and supporting young players like me is admirable.   

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