Star India defender Sandesh Jhingan hopes to pick the brains of high-profile SC East Bengal coach Robbie Fowler during his side ATK Mohun Bagan's high-profile Indian Super League clash against their arch-rivals in Vasco on Friday.
Jhingan, who was the most high profile signing by ATK Mohun Bagan this season, said he is eagerly waiting to catch up with the Liverpool legend and chat about football.
"Robbie Fowler is a footballing legend and I am really happy we have coaches of his profile in India. I hope one day I can catch up with him just to chat about football," Jhingan told PTI in an interview from Benaulim in Goa.
But on the pitch, Jhingan said his job will be to thwart Fowler's every attacking move. "Once we are on the field, we are rivals... It is an advantage to our team to have got a win in the first match and keep a clean sheet as it boosts our confidence going into the next match," he said.
"The team atmosphere is good. We have champions' mentality and we want to achieve great things."
For Jhingan, it will be the first derby of his life, albeit without fans. "Football is like an art and when the artist is at work, rest does not matter. We are happy to know the fans are behind us and will cheer for us," he said.
"Once I am on the ground I will treat it like any other match and do my job to try and help my team get the three points. Personally for me, once I am on the ground I am focused on what's going on the pitch, I barely think about anything off it," the 27-year-old said.
He, however, said they are looking forward to returning to their base in Kolkata and play in front of a packed Saltlake Stadium. "Every footballer loves to play in front of packed football stadiums. I am really looking forward to playing in front of a full house in Kolkata again. For now we have to just go out and do the job like every professional footballer is doing," the experienced India footballer said.
Playing their first match post-merger, ATKMB defeated Kerala Blasters by a solitary goal, courtesy a Roy Krishna strike. A new-look defence helmed by Jhingan and Tiri looked rusty initially but managed to keep a clean slate.
"It feels good to be part of a set squad, everyone is comfortable but every match is a new match and once you are on the ground past scores or teams don't matter," Jhingan said.
Jhingan had spent six seasons with Kerala Blasters but decided to part ways with the Kochi-based side. He was named one of the five captains of ATKMB by coach Antonio Lopez Habas for this season.
"Habas had spoken to me and convinced me to come to ATKMB as I know he has seen me from season one and knows my style of play. We have got along very well. He tells me exactly what he needs from me and so far, I hope I have delivered and can continue to deliver. He already has two ISL titles and his results speak for themselves," he said.
Jhingan returned to action recently after being sidelined for more than a year because of a knee injury and looked rusty in their opening game on November 20.
"I have said this before that my full recovery will only be judged by my performance in every match on the field and not by what I say. I am happy to have got a full 90 minutes behind me after almost 13 months including the injury layoff and COVID-19 delays," he said.
In the green-and-maroon jersey, Jhingan will have extra responsibility and more fan following and he is loving every bit of it. "I have always loved this. There would be some added fan pressure which is really good since I enjoy pressure and responsibility. I think it makes you better if you can strive in these situations," he said.
Staying long in a bio- bubble can be challenging but the senior India footballer is ready for a long season -- first for his club and then for India. "The mental pressure of being away from everyone and limited to playing matches, training and your hotel for 5-6 months can be challenging. Those with young families and children makes it even tougher if they cannot see them for a long duration.
"For me personally, I am paid to be a footballer and I know what the job demands, so I will just be professional and it will not be a problem," he said.
India are likely to play the World Cup and Asian qualifiers from March to June next year.
"I am not someone who will complain, we will just work hard when the time comes and do the best we can for our country," he signed off.