Anirudh Thapa, who plays as central midfielder for Chennaiyin FC kicked his first ball at the age of 8. All he wanted to do in his life was to play football. He grew up with it and hopes to grow old with it. Represented India for the first time in the U-16 SAFF Championships against Nepal. Chennaiyin FC is ranked No.100. He believes that one day he can bring up football to a level where everyone appreciates this sports & bestows due respect.

Lamest excuse you have ever given to your teacher?

Well, back in junior school, I used to skip classes to play Football. Luckily, as I grew up, I didn’t have to because everybody around me understood eventually that I was not born for books, I was born for goals. However, I remember asking the teacher once to use the toilet in the middle of a class and instead of going to the toilet I went to play Football with seniors, as I knew before-hand their practice timings. I don’t exactly remember how I explained the 25-minute-long absence to the teacher.

What does it mean to you to represent India?

Representing his/her nation is every player’s dream. And representing India means to me, what a lake of fresh water would mean to a thirsty traveler in a desert. I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

Your ultimate achievement?

Bringing this game to a level equal to other preferred sports, in India. Doing so well and making a name so big for this game, that the country is compelled to give the same respect and love to this game. Only that would give justice to the myriad of talented football players our country is enriched with.

One moment that every player needs to be ready for

That moment which is not yours. I believe every player should be ready to accept disappointment even in a moment which he/she believed would be his. It comes across each one of us. It is when we think we would shine the brightest but all we can do is just manage to flicker. A player should be patient enough to wait for his own moment and firmly believe on the saying that “every dog has its day”.

If you could wake up tomorrow in the body of another athlete, who would it be

I wish to wake up as the legend Sachin Tendulkar tomorrow and take a really long drive in my Ferrari.

One habit that you want to break or you have broken?

I loved eating all Spicy food but I had to drop it as my fitness regime demanded so.

Initial hurdles you faced

At the time I started playing Football, this was a road taken by only a few. It was difficult. No opportunities in sports in India. I had to be exceptional to get noticed, even to be selected to be coached.

For a young kid especially, managing academics with the game is a big challenge. I had to balance everything out – do well in my school curriculum and maintain a good form in the game consistently. I chalked out a schedule for myself and stuck to it. There was time for studies and there was time for practice. There was no room for anything else for a long time. My father, always supported me with all his heart and my school which had an important role to play in what I am today, have been my strengths all along.

Perks of being an athlete

Well, for me, it is learning. Sports can teach you everything you need to learn in life. It is a school in itself. You learn the importance of hard work, the value of team work, the worth of good days, leadership and what not. You learn to accept defeat; you learn to play humble on winning because you have been on the other side. You understand people and that not everybody is same. If not for sports, I believe it would take years of experience and greying of hair to learn these hard facts of life. Also, the fame. I am sure every athlete enjoys it.

Your first match for India

My first match for India was U16 SAFF championship finals against Nepal and fortunately we won.

I remember the thrill. The feeling of a dream coming true; knowing things would be different now. That was probably the first time I felt I was going somewhere. And all it made me humbler, more grateful to everyone who has helped me even a bit to get there.

What drives you to go for training every day?

My love and passion for the game of Football drives me to go for training every day. I like sleeping but undoubtedly not more than a ball at my feet.

Any rituals you follow

As almost every player who respects his game does this ritual. I touch the ground in veneration before and after every practice session or match.

One match that you are very proud of

My Debut match in the ISL when I was able to at least make my presence felt even though I was the youngest player.

How will you want to be known in 10 years from now?

I hope to be known as someone who made a difference in this game, not only for himself. It would also be nice to be known as the best Indian footballer in years.

Area of your game you need to improve?

I guess there should always be a room for improvement in every facet of a player’s game and hence I think I need to work on myself and my game as long as I am playing.

Your secret skills?

My friends say I seem very shy and sober at first encounter. So maybe, I am good at pretending to hide my mischievous face beneath the neat guy mask.

If you could get a tattoo, what would it be?

Football is life.

Best sports movie ever

My favorite sports movie was Rush. It was based on the real-life rivalry of two F1 racers. It was inspiring at so many levels.

The best thing it taught was that “A wise man learns more from his enemies than a fool from his friends”.

Your Goals

My Short-term goals are to continue playing in the best of my form and play for India on an International level. As I already said, my long-term goal is up the level of this game in India. Football has given me everything I could ask for and I hope that I can give it something in return.

What’s on your bucket list?

Apart from playing Football till the last day of my life, I would love to travel to places and play in every football ground I possibly can. Also, to hit a massive goal while playing against Cristiano Ronaldo.

“I grew up with it & hope to grow old with it”

Scariest experience you have ever had?

The scariest experience in my life was just before my Board examination results I guess.

One super power you wish you had, how would you use it?

I sometimes wish I had wings so I could fly and watch every game happening anywhere on the planet. There is so much to learn and I believe that every player in every game irrespective of the sport, teaches you a lot. I want to learn as much as possible and as soon as possible.

Your favorite team/club

My favorite team is undoubtedly Chennaiyin FC (ISL). I have been supporting the team even before I became a part of it. Also, it is a known fact, the people you have spent time with becomes your favorites. I have known the Chennaiyin players personally for a long time now and I have never seen the humbleness, team spirit, amiability and capability at the same time anywhere I’ve been to.

One message to your opponents

I wish the best player wins but I hope we both learn something. Good Luck because you will definitely need one.

Your biggest inspiration

My father, I have never known a man so selfless and giving as him. All his life, he has slogged himself to give my mother, my brother and me all that he could not get for himself. If I can be half the person he is, I consider myself lucky.

Do you hold any record?

Oh yes, I hold a record for sleeping for about 14 hours straight when I was not even tired. I once also managed to fit an entire box of chocolates into my mouth because I didn’t want to share any with my brother.

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