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Ashalata Devi: "I am afraid of no one on the pitch"

From the girl who had no idea how she is going to follow her dreams at one point of time, to becoming one of the most valued player in India and Sethu FC; the incredible journey of this fearless defender will inspire all of us and show that a real life phoenix actually rises from ashes.
Can you elaborate a little about your past and what made you get into football?

I started playing football somewhere around the age of 13. In 2008, I was selected for my first international exposure for India U17 and in 2011 I finally debuted for the India senior team. My initial years for the game was not very eventful and I mostly had to carry my dreams alone as there were not many supporters of mine who would understand my needs and guide me to the dream I started dreaming.

What were the challenges or adversities you faced at the opening of your career?

As I mentioned my initial years were not the best when I started playing and feeling for the game. Most of the limitations came from inside my family as no one in my family liked the fact of me playing football and not attending my studies or tuitions quite seriously. Everyone at that point of time thought there was no future in the sport and maybe my life will never get that good push towards a bright and successful future. Even after my first India representation for Under-17, people doubted on my ability and my ultimate dream to stand out as a professional footballer. My uncle helped me a lot in the convincing part to my family as I was totally desperate to shine with the game and was absolutely cold towards any views telling me to stop playing football. Ultimately, all of my family decided that they should leave me with my passion to follow football and that was when they gradually started having confidence in me that I can actually grow big with football.

The number of teams has increased this year and so has the challenges and what do you think is the difficulty level and the competition this season, so are there any teams you are really looking forwards to play?

The league now is what we have desired for a long time. You know if there is no great competition and support then the players also don't feel the same urge to give their best on the pitch. This year hopefully we are getting everything double with the doubling of the teams. This year it's going to be hard for everyone but at the same time we are about to witness a major change in the tournament and hopefully it will all contribute to a very competitive level of football in the tournament.

Is there any specified coach or person who has been always inspiring you to play football or who has been a constant guide toyour career from a very young age?

For me all my coaches have been so special and influential that I cannot point out probably just one. I have been playing with quite different teams and have trained under a lot of different coaches as well, what I realized is everyone is very unique with their techniques and the understanding of the game. I have always taken the best from each one of them and that is how I try to grow and be a better player than what I was yesterday.

Where do you see Sethu FC finishing in IWL?

According to me, Sethu got the best combination of players. We have balanced our team very well with both national and international stars for this season. The inclusion of the two exciting Nepal players will definitely give us results on the pitch. However, the connection among all the players is very important for a football team to play well. With so many new playersthis season from all nooks and corners of the country, it will be really exciting for us to connect with each and everyone in the team and understand their requirements on the pitch. If we stick as per our plans andfollow the strategies given by our coach, we can be one of the most favourites to clinch the title and that is how I feel about Sethu FC.

Being a defender you must be prone to a lot of injuries on the pitch due and tackles and blocks, do you have a strategy to avoid them?

I am afraid of no one on the pitch, be it strikers or injuries. I always try to give my everything on the pitch for my team and my teammates, so if I think too much of picking up an injury on the pitch then it is like disrespecting my other teammates who are pushing their limits as well.

Which teams are you really excited to face in the IWL?

The teams which I feel will do good this season is Gokulam Kerala FC and Manipur Police SC. I feel both these teams have an excellent set of players and more importantly the team's combination of young and experienced players is also very exciting. Manipur Police has a very experienced back line which can be a concern for us before facing them. Gokulam can be considered as a very versatile team this season, their squad is filled with India stars and also got a strong attacking prowess which makes them a team to watch out for. So, am really looking forward to face these two teamsin the tournament.

Where do you see yourself going from the end of this tournament?

I have played IWL previously but this time it is a different level of tournament. The level of competition am expecting this season will help meto grow as player as I will be open to more challenges from more players. The inclusion of so many teams will actually give us a real experience of a league system in football which will make us more patient and professional in our approach to any championships we face next.

What are Sethu FC's goals and objectives for the season?

Our team is always hungry for goals and success which I think is a very good aspect of us. The objectives are clear, we need to give our best for the upcoming championship and our focus is transfixed at the IWL trophy this season. The coaches are working very hard for our improvement and we players are also well poised with the situation and look forward to produce the best performance on the pitch.