By Shraishth Jain
AIFF Media Team
NEW DELHI: Currently in his second season in the Hero ISL with Hyderabad FC, 21-year-old full-back Asish Rai has caught the eye in this season with his excellent performances down the right flank -- featuring in all 12 of his team's matches so far and putting up impressive numbers as they fight for the coveted play-offs berth.
The former Indian Arrows cadet has emerged as an assured presence in both defence and attack for the Hyderabad side in the last two seasons and in a chat with www.the-aiff.com, Rai spoke about how his two-year stint in the Hero I-League with the Arrows helped him gain 'confidence' for the Hero ISL challenge.
"Coming to the Hero ISL was a challenge but I drew motivation from my two seasons with the Indian Arrows in the Hero I-League, where I got so much game time and learned how to play at the senior level against top opposition. We got a lot of opportunities to work on our game and develop with the Arrows, and we improved a lot as individuals and as a team. It was the perfect platform for an emerging player like me and really made me confident in my abilities," he stated.
In his debut season, Rai made just nine appearances for the Arrows in the 2017-18 Hero I-League but in the following campaign, he featured in all 20 matches and became a permanent fixture in the right full-back position as the team picked up 21 points to finish eighth on the points table.
He quipped, "The first season at the professional level was a real challenge and it was taking time for us to coming into our rhythms. However, in the second season, the team was shaping up really well as we became more mature and understood each other's games in a better manner."
The youngster, who hails from Pakyong in Sikkim, is a key member of the youthful Indian core of players at Hyderabad FC who have set the league alight and it also features left full-back Akash Mishra, who was Rai's teammate at the Arrows. The two young guns have formed a formidable partnership on either side of their team's defence and have played every game in the Hero ISL so far, which is a testament to their consistency.
"It feels really nice to have Akash in the side and I feel proud that two of us former Arrows players are now together at Hyderabad FC. The match-time we got back then really helps a lot in the Hero ISL. Akash had a phenomenal last season for the Arrows and he is someone who takes responsibility for his position in the team and gives his best every time," Rai explained.
The speedy full-back first became part of the AIFF youth set-up at U-18 level and has represented the age-group national teams at U-19 and U-23 levels. He was also a part of the India U-20 side that scripted the memorable win against Argentina U-20 at the COTIF Cup in Spain in 2018.
Rai recollected, "I remember I was very happy when I was called up for the junior national team camp for the first time. Representing the country was always an ambition of mine and I learned a lot from that time, which helps me perform even now."
"The match against Argentina was a really special match. All the players were highly motivated and supported each other. Even though we went down to 10 men, we were determined to win and give our best. The main thing about that win was all of us performed as a team and it was a really special moment for all of us. We really grew in confidence after that match."
Two of his former Arrows colleagues -- Amarjit Singh Kiyam and Narender Gahlot -- have already made their Blue Tigers debuts and Rai hopes that follow their lead and can fulfil his 'dream' of representing the senior national team in the coming years.
"I like to focus only on my next match and not get too ahead of myself. To play for the senior national team is something that every player dreams about and it makes me really happy to see Narender and Amarjit play at that level. I feel really proud since we are all very good friends and I hope to give my all in every game and hopefully, fulfil that Blue Tigers dream in the future," Rai asserted.