Anas Edathodika will set aside thoughts of his ailing father to focus on his role as a defender in the Indian football line-up against Kyrgyz Republic in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 qualifiers at the Kanteerava Stadium in Bengaluru on Tuesday. Encouraged by the elder members of his family, he is hoping that his performance will provide some solace to his father.
Like he did in the friendly against Nepal earlier this month, his being on the pitch for India against Kyrgyz Republic in the AFC Asian Cup tie is more inspirational since it comes against the backdrop of his father’s heart ailment. Coach Stephen Constantine, his heart in the right place, offered Anas the chance to return to be with his father but the sturdy defender put country before family.
“When I got this (Team India jersey), I fell numb. Until then I was only representing a club or a region. But the National team jersey entrusts you with more responsibility. It makes you feel immensely proud. ‘pura desh ke liye aap khel rahe ho; yeh feeling mein express nehi kar sakta hoon (You are playing for the country and I cannot adequately express this feeling)’,” he says.
The decision adds to the growing legend of the man who has always battled odds to pursue his passion for football. The story of the lad who earned Rs 180 a day by plying an autorickshaw to supplement his family income has done the rounds; as has the tale of his being advised by former India player Feroz Sharif to audition for Mumbai FC, competing in the I-League second division.
Congratulations to this very humble gentleman and my friend Anas Edathodika @anasedathodika15 on winning the Best Defender of the year at the AIFF Awards. It was so good to meet you and talk to you bro. All the best for the game tomorrow. See you soon! 🤙🏻🇮🇳⚽️ #Anas #IndianFootballTeam #aiff #nationalteam #football #bestdefender #aiffawards #baller #thehairmonster
Kerala’s refusal to pick him for Santosh Trophy stimulated him to work hard and improve his fitness and skills. His brushes with knee injuries, however, first kept him out of the first edition of the glitzy ISL and then out of the Indian squad when he was first named among the probables for friendlies and India’s World Cup qualifiers last year.
Finally, a decade and a half after he first expressed his love for football on a pitch, Anas found a place in the Indian squad this year. It has been a remarkable journey from Mallapuram, pitching milestones with teams in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi and Kolkata before securing his maiden India cap this March in the friendly against Cambodia at the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh.
It did not really matter that he was 30-years-old and had waited long for this call up. His work-ethic, his willingness to learn and his readiness to deliver on the big stage have all held him in good stead. It came as no surprise to those who have seen Anas hold his own in the domestic circuit that coach Constantine has come to trust him to play the key defender’s role.
On Tuesday evening, when Anas steps on the pitch for the game against Kyrgyz Republic, he will have the backing of all Indian football fans – and their prayers for his father. But, above all, he will have etched a place for himself in the hearts of the fans with his decision to play for India at a time when most in his place would have accepted the coach’s offer and headed home.