A few months ago, Ishan Pandita was not inclined to fly back to his native land but was forced to do so with the prevailing pandemic situations. Currently, he’s an overnight sensation in India and one of 35 players to have been selected by national coach Igor Stimac for upcoming assignments.
Till the midway of the ongoing 2020-21 ISL, people knew Ishan Pandita as just another young footballer, waiting in the sidelines to get his opportunity. Roll down the time by a few matches, the Delhi-boy has a serious purpose in the FC Goa unit, while Indian football fans specifically keeping an eye on him towards the ending stages of a game to produce the magic he often does. Having played just 56 minutes across nine matches and scoring four goals – all after the 83rd minute, just defines why he the ‘super sub’ every team would want in their ranks.
But, he’s got more tricks up his sleeves for sure. Not every footballer gets to play their youth career in Spain and bump into the Indian football scene when his peaking has just taken-off. It’s just that he’s waiting for some more game time to unleash his best, with the knowledge he’s gained so far during his stint in Europe, where he went through rigorous training sessions in his youth career, along with a small stint with professional side Lorca FC.
“Obviously, it’s been massive (the exposure in Spain), the exposure I got in Spain and the experience I got was fantastic and without that, I wouldn’t be myself today I guess. I would recommend any young player, who has the opportunity to go abroad - to definitely take it. The experience is worth it, to be honest. The things we learn, the way we grow as a person, not just on the field but character as well. It takes us to another level that we, unfortunately, do not have yet in India, so it has been great in Europe and had a great time there,” said Ishan Pandita, during an exclusive interview with SportsCafe.
Having seen the two different football structures in his career so far – India and Spain, Ishan is a footballer with less experience but rich eyes, having scrutinized both worlds with deep insights. While India is still taking long strides to keep up the pace with the leading nations in the trade, there’s no denying that the scope for improvement is vast. Even though India have produced physically strong players in recent times, the tactical aspect of the game has let them down on the international stage. Having patience and consistency is India’s mantra to success for the time being.
“I could personally say that it can be broken down into two parts - the physical side of it and the tactical side of it. Physically, when it comes to speed, strength, and all those things, India is up there, I don’t see any issue at all. India has some great players, they’re strong, they’re fast, physically we’re up there - up to the mark,” explained the FC Goa striker.
“But, all coaches say, tactically, we're still below the standards in Europe. That’s what we learn there (in Europe) at a very young age - positioning, the work that’s done off the ball, the movements, to be in the right place at the right time. All these things come with time, and that’s what I feel India is lacking at the moment.”
The fact that his entry into the Indian circuit was not planned and was a result of the Covid-19 situation back in Spain, makes the current stint even more special. Settled in Spain with a professional club would hardly divert anyone to Indian shores, but as it happened it was a ‘blessing in disguise’ for the young lad.
“I guess you could say that, I guess I am the type of person to make the most out of the situation. So, things weren’t going too well with the world due to Covid-19. And I never really had any intention to come back home, I was set to stay in Spain for as long as I could,” revealed the 22-year old.
“I was doing pre-season with a very good team, at a good level and at the last moment, things didn't turn out the way I wanted them to due to a few reasons and this India thing (FC Goa) came up which I thought maybe it was a good idea to come back home with all the things happening in the world. Come home, settle down for a little-bit and show myself to India I guess.”
With the extensive coverage of the Indian Super League, it took a flash for Ishan Pandita to transform into an overnight sensation. The next thing – everyone was expecting him to don the Indian jersey soon, with social media overloaded with wishes for the youngster. He did get his due credit, with him being inducted into the 35-member squad for India’s international friendlies against Oman and UAE, in Dubai, later in March. But, it was the brainstorming sessions inside the FC Goa dressing room that helped him get into the mould which he’s now renowned for.
“I mean you could say that it was a part of the strategy, the coach throws me on with confidence, knowing that I’m probably going to get a goal, or I’ll have an impact inside the box in the last few minutes or maybe even win a penalty or an assist. I’m a striker, so that’s what I try to do. I am an attacking player and it’s been going well so far, touch wood,” stated Pandita.
Overall, the experience with Juan Ferrando has been fruitful for the footballer, with him gaining valuable experience from the Spaniard. To build a ‘character’ for oneself is a priority for any footballer, but the grooming from the head coach has been a bonus, admits the footballer.
"Juan’s a great person - on and off the field, he’s a good coach but he doesn’t just help us on the field, even outside the field, he helps us build character, gives us confidence and he gives us the freedom to play on the field, he’s a good coach and he’s been helping here and there on a few things that I need to improve on."
For the time being, Ishan Pandita would focus on none other than the two-legged semi-finals against Mumbai City FC – the 2020-21 ISL League Shield Winners. Once done, Pandita will be gearing for a new venture, under a new mentor in unconquered territories as tougher challenges lie ahead.