Many years ago, when he was a college-level footballer, Anas Edathodika used to drive an auto sometimes to supplement his family’s income.

The defender from Malappuram has come a long way and now the Kerala Blasters head coach David James sees the Indian international as a potential leader of men.

“Anas is one of those players who commands respect, not just with his presence but with the way he conducts himself,” said James, the former England World Cupper.

“And when we were going through recruitment, that was one of the factors we had to look at, we need leaders on the field, not just the captain’s armband but a leader in personality and in conduct. That was one of our marquee signing.”

That sure must feel like a wonderful welcome for the 31-year-old centre-back as he gets ready to play for the Kerala Blasters, his ‘home’ team, for the first time. His first event will be a big one, the Toyota Yaris La Liga World pre-season tournament which begins at the Nehru Stadium here on Tuesday.

Anas is certainly excited.

“I have seen the massive crowd here and coming back to play for your own team, it’s a very different feel. Of course, there will be pressure to make the side a champion side,” said Anas at the Lulu Marriott here on Sunday evening.

“The main goal is to make the team win, there will be pressure but I’m excited.”

Anas is aware that the two teams the Blasters are up against in the tournament — Australian A-League’s Melbourne City FC and Spanish La Liga side Girona FC — are quality sides. But he made it clear that there was no churn in the tummy.

“There is no tension. Of course, we respect the team, they have good players and this will be a good experience for the side. And I thank the management for bringing such teams before the ISL. It will be a good experience for the team,” said Anas, who had played for Roberto Carlos’ Delhi Dynamos and Steve Coppell’s Jamshedpur FC earlier in the ISL.

“Our team came together just 10 days ago. There will be a lot of positives and negatives but our team is taking these matches very seriously. They will be difficult but we take them as a big challenge, we have strong defenders in the team.”

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