CHENNAI: It was a foreshadowing of things to come. When Edwin Sydney Vanspaul was playing for Loyola College in an inter-college game, one of his team’s central defenders was sent off. His coach promptly asked the striker to slot in at centre-back and Edwin duly agreed. That has been the theme of Edwin’s career ever since.
The 27-year-old, who long-time followers of the Chennai Football Association senior division league will remember as a promising young striker, played in the defensive midfield in Chennaiyin FC’s 2-0 win over NorthEast United last week. He’d started the season for CFC as a wing-back. And when previous club Chennai City FC plucked him up from the CFA league, he was a winger.
“I don’t think there are too many positions I have not played in,” says Edwin. “Except goalkeeper. I hope I never have to play there.”What makes Edwin’s versatility so surprising is that he never played in any of those positions as a junior. He was a striker in school, for Cuddalore district team and for his college as well. He played up front for Food Corporation of India in the CFA league as well. But things changed when he signed up for Indian Bank.
“I played as a striker for 3-4 matches,” Edwin says. “Then, the club signed some foreign strikers and (current Chennaiyin assistant coach) Syed Sabir Pasha, who was the coach then, asked me to play as a winger.” The reasoning was that foreigners held the ball better. Edwin had become the latest in a long line of Indian strikers to lose their position to a foreign one.
But the Neyveli-born player took it on the chin and excelled as a winger. Then another change happened. “We were in a tournament in Maharashtra and all our wing-backs had gone for the Santosh Trophy,” Edwin says. “So I was asked to play as a wing-back.”
Another experiment happened when Edwin signed for Chennai FC. Coach Raman Vijayan asked him to play as a central midfielder. But that experiment was ignored when he got his shot in the I-League with Chennai City FC — Edwin was again a winger. His first season saw him being rotated with Michael Soosairaj in that position. But then, an injury crisis prompted him to don the role of a wing-back again and he impressed so much that he kept the regulars out of the team.
His displays in that position sparked a great deal of interest among ISL teams and it was Chennaiyin FC who won out in the end. Edwin started the season as John Gregory’s preferred choice at right-back, but when the Englishman was replaced by Owen Coyle midway, plans changed yet again.
“He was trying out different players in midfield and after I played there in a practice game, he told me to be in that position from now on. Two days later, I was starting in midfield against NorthEast.” As was the case with other positions, Edwin grabbed his chance with both hands — his all-action display there had set social media abuzz.“I try to watch my teammates and learn what’s required of each position. It’s all in my mindset. Whatever the team needs, I have to play in that position.”