THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: As the Kerala Blasters FC prepare to launch another assault at the title, the Kochi-based outfit is the only side this ISL season that can boast of an active player from the most recent major as their marquee. Aaron Hughes' was a sparkling presence in Northern Ireland's progress to the second round of their first ever European Championships, held just two months ago.
The former Newcastle United and Fulham defender shared with Express from Guwahati his thoughts and expectations with his new club.
Q: What are your early impressions of Indian football, Kerala Blasters, and your teammates? And how far do you think this team can go in the upcoming season?
Hughes: Very impressive. The standard and the ability levels of the lads here are actually very good. With further coaching, with further experience as the ISL grows and you get players from around the world coming in, it will only get better. I didn't know what to expect. I came here with a very open mind. I've been very impressed so far in terms of the team and the set-up. I want to win it (ISL title).
Q: Having played most of your football in England, how do you look at the challenge of playing in a new country? How do you think you will cope with the conditions in India?
Hughes: Australia was similar last year. At times, it's quite hot. So it's not like coming from England straight to India. But I don't mind the conditions. I can adapt and deal with those. I saw a little bit of the league last season on TV, and everyone I've spoken to said it was a competitive and a tough league to play in. So I don't expect an easy time of it. I'm going to be just as prepared as I have been throughout any time of my career.
Q: Your previous stint with Melbourne City FC in the A-League did not work out as planned. Are you hoping to make amends for that disappointment with Kerala Blasters?
Hughes: I am. Everything I do, I want to try and do to the best of my ability, and hope that it always works out. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. Last year, things didn't work out as planned. But it wasn't because I didn't put everything into it. I come to Kerala in the exact same mindset. And I am prepared to put everything into it. You can't really ask for anything more than that. At the end of the day, whatever happens, that's how it is. As long as you give your 100 percent, that's the main thing.
Q: At the age of 36, you will also be one of the most experienced members in the Kerala Blasters dressing room. How do you think you can help the young Indian footballers in the team?
Hughes: That's one thing I find about the young Indian lads here. They really want to learn. They are asking questions, they ask about different things on the training pitch. It would be fantastic if I can be of any help to them. If I was a young lad, I would always look up to the older players.
Q: Is there any player or coach in other ISL teams that you are looking forward to playing against?
Hughes: I'm actually looking forward to playing against Chennaiyin because a friend of mine, an old teammate of mine - John Arne Riise - plays there. It'll be nice to see him again, play against him. I haven't seen him in a long time. It would be good to see him. (They played together at Fulham.)