Javi Hernandez has already spent a couple of seasons in the Indian football circuit, having won the ISL trophy for ATK back in the 2019-20 season. However, with his contract ending earlier this year, the Spanish playmaker is set to represent his new employer - Odisha FC in the upcoming season.
Javi Hernandez had already touched 30 before landing in India for his first stint with ATK-Mohun Bagan, two years back. However, imported to play a vital cog in the setup for the Kolkata-based club, he had invited a lot of limelight. And boy, did he deliver!
The Spaniard featured in 20 matches that season, made merry at the heart of the midfield, and justified every penny spent on him. He ended up with five assists and a couple of goals in the final to mark his arrival in the Indian football circuit.
Couldn’t have been a better start to his ISL career, having almost achieved everything of what was on offer. Even though he played 17 matches in the following season, his impact was not the same. But, the playmaker decided to hang around and throw another dice, signing a fresh contract with Odisha FC.
“I like this a lot, this league and I feel comfortable here was my first option to come again here. My targets this year are working and giving my 100% to help the ambitious project that the club has this season,” said Javi Hernandez, during an exclusive chat with SportsCafe.
Two whole seasons spent, Javi is not a new face in this part of the world, with a third cycle on the cards. The ISL is a league that has been subject to regular changes, be it the inclusion of new teams, tweaking of the foreign quota policies, or changes in the youth structure of the clubs.
All factors confluence at a critical juncture – improvement of Indian football. Despite the humongous efforts which have had positive reflections, the system has skipped a beat or so. Javi Hernandez, who has bred under the umbrella of a club like Real Madrid in his youth days, has figured out where Indian football needs to amplify.
“I think little by little everything is improving. What I would change is good sports facilities in each club with many more resources for the players. I think that would improve the level of all the players and the league,” stated Javi Hernandez.
Just as having a dynamic resume enhances a career, on the flip side, it demands adjusting to a different environment at a swift pace. Having started his career in the Secunda Division B (the second tier of Spanish football), he played for leagues in Sweden, Romania, Poland and Azerbaijan and then contrastingly to the Indian Super League. The Spanish playmaker has had to cope up with a plethora of changes in his surroundings, throughout his career.
“I think it is not easy because each country, each culture and each type of soccer is different. You have to be mentally strong and ambitious. They are very good experiences in every way,” added the former Real Madrid Castilla player.
The influx of foreign players into the Indian system has taken a hit, with the organisers of the ISL deciding to allow only four foreigners in the starting XI. Unbiased, the reform is more of a boon for growth of the game in the country. For overseas players plying their trade in India is more of a shocker, with one berth scrapped off the quota, along with fierce competition for survival and playing time.
“To be honest, for foreign players it is not a good rule, because we have one space less than last year but that will give Indian players one more space and can have more minutes and improve their game,” opined the former ISL winner.
The Spanish footballer has played a lot with the domestic players, with most of them a part of the Indian national squad. Even though a few have impressed Javi in the training sessions with their raw talent, the foreigner has enjoyed playing with the likes of his former colleagues a lot – Manvir Singh, Jayesh Rane and Michael Soosairaj to name a few.
“I can see in the first training sessions very good and young Indian players. I also enjoyed last season with many of them like Jayesh, Manvir, Soosa… (Soosairaj),” recalled the footballer.
With the preparations in full swing, Odisha FC are aiming for at least a top-four finish, with them falling short in each of the last two seasons. However, learning from the past and with a revamped foreign contingent at their disposal, things are bound to change for the good. Hernandez, a seasoned campaigner, would be adding the extra flair in their playmaking zone. The ‘Juggernauts’ will begin their 2021-22 ISL campaign against Bengaluru FC, on November 24.
“I think the project is good and ambitious. And I think what each of us has to do is give our best in each training session and in each game to help the team to be as high as possible and not be able to blame ourselves for anything,” signed off the Odisha FC star.