Having made his Indian Super League (ISL) debut this season, Odisha FC defender Hendry Antonay has set his sights on donning the Indian national jersey for the senior team.
The 20-year-old has been impressive down the left flank for the Kalinga Warriors in ISL 7, clocking 10 appearances for Stuart Baxter's side.
“My ultimate goal is to play for the senior Indian football team,” the Odisha FC left-back told SportsAdda in an exclusive interview.
“I’ve been playing the sport since my childhood and I want to learn and improve every year. I have improved as a player since my initial days at Bengaluru FC and Pune FC but I’m still learning and want to play even better so that I can play for the Indian national team,” Antonay added.
The former Indian Arrows player, who has already established himself as head coach Stuart Baxter’s first-choice left-back, has heaped praise on the Odisha FC coach for his impressive showing in the ISL.
“The belief that our coach has shown towards me in my very first season in the ISL, has given me a lot of confidence. I’ve already played 10 matches and that experience has helped me to learn something new in every single game. I think the coach has seen that I want to give my 100% or 200% every match and that’s why he has trusted me, putting me in the playing XI.”
“I really liked the fact that he is giving equal chances to all the players. Also, after every game, the coach lets us know what all we can improve and even guides us if we commit any individual mistakes without shouting, unlike some other coaches. He is very calm and nice,” the defender further added.
The 20-year-old who was earlier plying his trade in the I-league stated that there were no major differences between I-league and ISL.
“Actually, there are no major differences between ISL and I-league. I just feel we should approach both the leagues with the same attitude and not differentiate. We must give our 100% irrespective of whether we are facing a big team or a small one.”
The youngster who is currently striking all the right chords in his endeavour, has climbed up the ladders in Indian football through hard work and dedication. Interestingly, Antonay had started his football career for the academy sides of Ozone FC and Pune FC.
The 20-year-old had spent almost three years at the Pune FC academy before being called into the Indian U-17 setup in 2015, after the selection trials in Mumbai.
Speaking about his journey, Antonay said: “During my childhood days in Bangalore, the place from where I come from, Austin Town, there were more Olympians near my place.
“So, one day I went for selection at Ozone FC where they had foreign coaches from the Netherlands, which I really liked. I learnt a lot from them for nearly three years and they even took me overseas for matches. I later joined the Bengaluru FC academy and toiled really hard there. I was even made the captain of their A-side. However, I thought if I want to succeed in football, I need to leave this club and venture outside. Fortunately, I received an offer from Pune FC, which I joined and stayed there for three years. Later, there was this Indian camp that happened for the U-17 World Cup squad selection.”
Spotted by former India U-17 coach Nicolai Adam, Antonay represented the Indian U-17 team during the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup that was hosted by India.
“I want to thank god that I was a part of the Indian U-17 World Cup squad. Undoubtedly, it was a massive achievement in my life that I was a part of those 21-member squad.”
Having registered just a solitary win in 12 matches, Odisha FC have struggled in the ongoing edition of the ISL. According to Antonay, the lack of a proper pre-season has affected his team’s performance.
“There was no proper pre-season this time around due to the global pandemic. As a result of it, the foreign recruits joined the team late and we couldn’t play together in the preseason friendlies. That kind of affected us a lot and we have struggled to find our right combination.
“Also, there were multiple injuries to our players at the start of the ISL season. All of these have affected Odisha FC, however, I feel we are coming into our own in the last four matches that we have played. I’m hopeful that we will do much better in the upcoming matches and that will reflect in the results.”
Meanwhile, bottom-placed Odisha FC will take on Bengaluru FC at the Fatorda Stadium on Sunday, January 24. Currently, the Juggernauts have seven points from 12 encounters and they will look to upset the ISL 5 champions in the upcoming fixture.
Feature image courtesy: Twitter/@narendramodi