Odisha FC U18 striker Akshunna Tyagi became the talk of the town after an incredible season in the All India Football Federation (AIFF) Elite League. The 18-year-old scored 20 of the 45 goals Odisha scored in just 14 games, with his partner on the wing Rishabh Dobriyal adding another 18. The rest of the team could only contribute seven goals.
This incredible prolificacy in front of goal helped his side finish second in the Delhi-Jaipur-Punjab zone and qualify for the final round which was not completed owing to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Tyagi showcased quality finishing in front of goal and great acumen with some good link-up with his team-mates. Good coaching during the formative years plays a massive role in the development of the player. So was the case with the Odisha striker who has been in great hands at every stage of his career so far.
Goal caught up with the youngster who provided an insight to his development.
“I started playing football in Class II. Then I played interschool tournaments fourth standard. The passion for football grew and then I joined an academy here in Delhi. I met a coach Soumen Roy. He helped me a lot as I worked on my basics. I joined there in eighth standard and trained under him for about five years. I still go to practice with them.
“He was the one who taught me the basics in my formative years and helped me grow. First, I played football for fun but then he helped turn it into my passion,” he explained.
Training with a professional club – one of the biggest in the country’s history – invites pressure. But Tyagi owes his development to the opportunity to train at the Mohun Bagan Academy. He thanked the legendary India international and former boss Jo Paul Ancheri for his guidance during his one year stay at the club.
He also spoke about playing alongside and developing a rapport with Subho Ghosh, the 19-year-old who earned his spot in the Mohun Bagan senior team last season.
“I was with the Mohun Bagan academy last year. Initially, I used to struggle a lot during training because the competition was very high. Slowly I became more professional and started putting in more work. At academies, you learn a lot about discipline and hard work. That was when my outlook on football became more professional,” he said.
“I joined Mohun Bagan in 2018 and I was there for one year. Ancheri sir was my coach then. He always encouraged me when I struggled and always supported me. He always gave me a lot of chances. It was great to work with him. He is a great person.
“He focused heavily on finishing in our training drills. He used to ask for good crosses from the wingers and become angry when the finishing is not on point. As you know, he is gifted with really good heading attributes and used to help us with our aerial skills.
“My partnership with Shubho was very good. ON the field we were good together. I was not so experienced, so I did not get a lot of chances. But whenever we played together, we clicked. He is a very good player.”
The 18-year-old then joined Odisha’s U18 side, with Sandeep Alhan at the helm. It was under his tutelage that Tyagi was given a flavour of a tactical approach to games depending on the opposition. While he picked up the basics and technical aspects of the game from his previous coaches, the striker learned how to think like a defender as he trained under Sandeep.
He said - “When I joined Delhi Dynamos, the club was training in Delhi. I went for trials and got selected there. Sandeep Alhan was the coach at that point. He is tactically gifted. He used to prepare differently for every team.
“He was a defender during his time, so the defender’s instinct is always there. When we were not in possession, he used to teach us how to counter the move that the other team is making."
Scoring 20 goals in a season is a big feat that requires immense hard work along with the inherent skill. But Tyagi also spoke about how the presence of quality teams in the tournament helped him get better every game.
“I used to train hard. There is no secret to it. I practised a lot and work on my striker instinct, finishing and trying to get into the right positions to score. This year I tried to change things and thankfully it worked. It was a great year for me. Scoring 20 goals is an amazing feeling.
“We faced so many good teams from Bengaluru, Goa and Kolkata. It’s nice to have good competition because that’s how you improve,” he said.
Naturally, the youngster has set his sights on playing for the Odisha senior side. But he is aware that the quality of football in the Indian Super League (ISL) is at a much higher level and hence prefers to take his time to develop into a lethal player rather than looking at a premature promotion.
“My next target is to get into the Odisha main team and play in the ISL. Hopefully, in 2-3 years, I will play for the senior team.
“I think I might need a little more experience to take this step because the ISL is at a different level. Hopefully, I should in a couple more years,” he concluded.