In his first season in the Hero Indian Super League, Ishan Pandita scored four goals for FC Goa – that too playing just 131 minutes in the entire season. Pandita was born in Delhi and raised in the Philippines, and then moved to pursue his footballing education in Spain.

In a candid chat with The Daily Guardian, the 22-year-old striker spoke in detail about his call-up to the National Team squad and about making new friends in the Blue Tigers camp. He also reflected on Igor Stimac’s philosophy, life and learnings in Spain, a certain “desperation” that he faced at one point and clutching on to his Indian passport, and much more. Excerpts:

Q. Your Midas touch lit up the Hero Indian Super League. How does that feel?

A. (Smiles). It was an amazing experience. The hunger and passion I have for the game defined it for me. I was hungry to perform and am willing to do anything to see the ball at the back of the net. I was coming in as a substitute and had very little time to make a mark. My desperation knew no bounds.

Q. Where were you born and when did you shift abroad?

A. I was born in Delhi and my roots go back to Kashmir. My family moved to the Philippines when I was three and I lived and studied there for 9 years. We moved back to Bengaluru and I stayed there until my 10th grade. I then moved to Spain when I was just 16 to pursue my dream of playing football.

Q. Were you alone in Spain, or was your family with you?

A. I moved alone. Initially, I found it extremely tough. I cried every single day and felt homesick. It was an alien country, a different culture. In fact, everything was so different. I wanted to be back in India, but football kept me going. Slowly, I got used to the system and settled down and after that there was no looking back.

Q. What value addition did the stint in Spain bring into your game?

A. My decision-making on the field improved immensely. The exposure and that level of training at that high intensity made me stronger – technically, physically and mentally.

Q. What does the call to the National Team mean to you?

A. It means everything. I am extremely honoured. Every kid while growing up dreams of playing for his country. That’s a norm all over the world, and in any sport for that matter. I also dreamt the same. The call-up offers me an opportunity to make a mark for my country – but there’s a long way ahead.

Q. Unfortunately, Sunil Chhetri isn’t a part of this tour. How would it make the difference?

A. It’s a big blow for us. Personally, I was looking forward to meeting him and watching him from up close. He is such a legend and I was eager to pick up some of his traits and adopt them into my gameplay – both on and off the pitch. But there’s always a next time and I wait to play and learn from him. I hope he gets well soon.

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