CHENNAI: As Chennaiyin FC unveiled their squad for the upcoming Indian Super League (ISL) season at a swanky hotel in the city last week, a lot of the attention focused on one man. Anirudh Thapa was the last player to be called on the stage, walking in as the rest of his teammates applauded. When the floor was opened for questions for fans and media, Thapa had to take his share of queries. And as coach John Gregory sat down for a detailed discussion regarding his team’s prospects for the season, the conversation eventually shifted to Thapa.
Thapa hasn’t had the chance to mingle much with his new Chennaiyin teammates (and there are a few, for Chennaiyin have only retained a single foreign player from last year’s disastrous season) but Gregory revealed that they’re already impressed. “A player always gets judged by the rest of the team,” Gregory said. “And the six foreigners have all come and asked ‘who’s this kid?’ (when they saw Thapa train). Rafa (Brazilian midfielder Rafael Crivellaro) loves him.”
Gregory too has detected a lot of what India coach Igor Stimac did when he decided to make Thapa the main man in his midfield. He says that the 21-year-old Dehradun player has that ruthlessness that a lot of Indian players seem to be missing. “(Sunil) Chhetri’s got it. And Thapa has got it,” Gregory said. “He won’t stand still. Once Chhetri goes, he will want to become captain. That’s how he is. He will want to be captain of our team and he will want to be captain of the national team. Because he’s got that hunger. He’ll have a long and successful career.”
And while fame and success at a young age can often get to a player’s head, Gregory believes Thapa has all the tools to deal with that. And one of the many things helping him keep his feet on the ground is his best friend in the dressing room, fellow midfielder Germanpreet Singh.
“Thapa, to be fair, is a very level-headed kid. I think he’s more than capable of dealing with it all,” the 65-year-old Englishman said. “We joke about it (his friendship with Germanpreet). I actually asked them if they wanted a room together or separately. Because I’ll tell you, they’ll always be in one of their rooms. German will be in Thapa’s room, Thapa will be in German’s room and it’s only at night that they go back to their own rooms. I think, in that respect, German does give him some substance of staying very low key. They’re really good for each other. German’s also very quiet, very down to earth.”