Michael Soosairaj unruffled by India's competition for places
With five days to go for India's national coach Igor Stimac to name his first squad for the four-nations King's Cup in Thailand, it is fair to say there is a hint of nervousness in the Indian camp.
That this will be a new-look outfit to that favoured by former coach Steven Constantine is without doubt. Stimac has already brought in several previously uncapped players in the initial long list of 37 players. And on Monday, he reaffirmed that belief by cutting six players, including two - Germanpreet Singh and Sumeet Passi - who had represented India at the AFC Asian Cup.
Germanpreet's absence means that another midfielder, Michael Soosairaj, is in with a chance to make his national debut. Soosairaj was named the best midfielder of the I-League back in 2017-18 and was one of the standout performers in the ISL for Jamshedpur FC last season, but was a notable omission from Constantine's side.
While the 24-year-old is aware of the opportunity that lies before him, Soosairaj also knows enough to not get ahead of himself.
"This is my first ever call-up to the national team. There were 37 fantastic players and in the end there will be 23. Whether or not I get into the final team I will be very happy that I was at least part of this group," Soosairaj said ahead of a practice session at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi.
For the moment, he's just concentrating on absorbing all what coach Stimac, who has managed the Croatian national team previously, brings in. And while it has only been a little under a week, Stimac has already made a good impression.
"He has told us that we don't have much time. So he asked us to take proper rest and concentrate hard in what we do. I love playing this one-touch and two-touch and also combination and coordination."
Despite the long wait simply to get the call up, Soosairaj says he isn't under any pressure to justify his selection.
"I didn't wonder when I will come. There was a lot of talk on social media about why I wasn't getting picked, but I wasn't too worried about it. There's a lot of really good midfielders here and I have to beat them to get picked in the final team but even then I am not under any pressure to perform.
"I'm just happy I got a chance in the camp. Until now I didn't even get a chance in the camp. This group of players in the camp are some of the most fantastic players in the country. I've seen them play in the ISL and I-League so it's a great feeling to play alongside them."
Amongst his compatriots, he predictably singled out the team's leading goal scorer Sunil Chhetri. While Chhetri is almost certainly assured of keeping his place in the side, the 34-year-old is also looking out for the relative newcomers.
"He (Chhetri) is someone who motivates all the junior players both on and off the pitch," Soosairaj said. "He will come and talk to you individually. He told me that since it's my first national camp, its better if I don't take pressure on my shoulders. He has advised me to stay humble but also be smart."