Midfielder Cole Alexander became only the second South African to play in the Indian Super League when he signed for Odisha FC ahead of the 2020-21 season. Born in Cape Town, the 31-year-old started his professional football career with Ajax Cape Town in 2008 and has since gone on to play for as many as six clubs across the country. 

However, when the Kalinga Warriors came calling, the versatile midfielder had no second thoughts about leaving his homeland. In an exclusion chat with SportsAdda, the six-time capped South African international explained what lured him away from his home country to play in the Indian Super League.

“There are a lot of similarities in both leagues,” Alexander explained, comparing South Africa’s Premier Soccer League and Indian Super League. 

“Both are extremely competitive and I don’t think there are any easy games. Both leagues demand a high pressing approach, high intensity and more energy. So it’s like a boxing game you know, and I like that.

“My experience here so far has been good. Despite the limitations due to the bio-secure bubble, I’m enjoying the vivid culture within the team.

Earlier before Odisha FC had sealed Alexander’s signature, there were reports that Kaizer Chiefs were hunting the midfielder too. But Stuart Baxter’s arrival in Odisha changed the complexion. 

The pair had crossed paths several times in the past, including their union at the South Africa senior national team, and the midfielder explains that he was one of the reasons that he decided to sign for the ISL outfit.

“It was always a dream for me to play outside of my country and also to work with Stuart Baxter was an absolute privilege. I personally believe that the Indian Super League is growing and that’s why chose Odisha FC,” he added.

“My first impression of Odisha FC was pure excitement. I always wanted to play in a country like India and it is indeed a big deal for me,  and I’m very grateful for the opportunity. I’m really looking forward to making some good memories here.”

Odisha had endured a tough start to their new Indian Super League season, failing to win all of their opening eight games. And things turned for the worse when the hierarchy decided to part ways with Baxter. Their first game without the Englishman was a 4-1 defeat against ATK Mohun Bagan; a game where Odisha showed immense promise and where Alexander scored his third goals of the season.

The Kalinga Warriors are currently operating under the interim guidance of Gerry Peyton, and Alexander explained how the team has coped with the change.

“Yeah, it was a difficult moment for us. It is never ideal to lose a coach with 7-8 games left in the season. For us, as a team, it was certainly a blow. However, I think coach Gerald has done really well.

“In my experience, I’ve witnessed that the new coaches who come in, they totally throw away everything that the previous manager has done, and that way they lose the changing room. But Gerald knew what Stuart had taught us, his principles, and he is continuing all the good work. And I compliment Gerald on that because the situation isn’t an easy one and he has got the backing of all the players.”

Odisha FC sit at the bottom of the ISL points table with their potential play-off chances now over. While the midfield general has made peace with it, he explained the positives he managed to churn out from a difficult season.

“I’d say it’s been a difficult season in terms of not getting the desired results,” he said. 

“It’s more difficult if we lose the game by silly errors that we’re trying to get rid of because there's a lot of games where those kinds of mistakes cost us points. If we can just exclude those silly errors in the games, I think our standing in the table would have been much better. 

“I think we had so many games where we didn’t deserve to lose or even play a draw. But overall, I believe we’re still learning and growing and it’s during the times like these where you learn more than the usual. 

“The best lesson I’ve learned over the years is that we can take the positive out of any stressful situations. We can either get better or get bitter. It’s upto us. If we all can have that perspective both in our life and on the football pitch, we can do much better,” Alexander explained.

Feature image courtesy: Twitter / @Odisha FC