Vanspaul and Soosairaj - Friends turn foes today

Edwin Sydney Vanspaul and Michael Soosairaj - Friends turn foes today

After the previous meeting between the two clubs in Kolkata, Vanspaul stayed over at Soosairaj’s house

Edwin Vanspaul (DH Photo)

"Nice to meet you,” tweeted Chennaiyin FC star Edwin Sydney Vanspaul as he found who will stand against him in the Indian Super League final. It’s a rare gesture towards a rival, but then again, Vanspaul and Michael Soosairaj, the gallivanting wingback of ATK, have a long history, one that has led them to possibly the biggest match of their career.

“There are a lot of stories with us,” Vanspaul laughs as he talks to DH. “Soosai and I played university matches against each other, in the local league also. So we have a friendship that goes a long way back. We played together in Chennai City (I-League side) but till then, in the local league he was in Arrows and I was in Indian Bank. He was in Chennai City and I was in Chennai FC. We played together in Santosh Trophy and when Chennai City moved up to the I-League, I joined with him. We played together for two years,” says Vanspaul.

This is a meeting both are really eager for. After the previous meeting between the two clubs in Kolkata, Vanspaul stayed over at Soosairaj’s house. His brother Michael Regin, another key player for ATK, is also part of this brotherhood.

For Vanspaul it’s been a long road. Unlike Soosairaj, he didn’t make the ISL till this season, at 27. He was not a stand out star that his 25-year-old friend was during their breakout season in the I-League with Chennai City. What Vanspaul had, was grit, drive and football intelligence.

So when the call came from Chennaiyin, Vanspaul - who won the I-League the season before - was prepared.

“I just wanted to try. I didn’t play in any academy so at every level, I had to stay for a couple of years, survive and learn before moving on,” he says.

It wasn’t easy either. While ATK tore through the league, riding on the back of their foreign strike-pairing of Roy Krishna and David Williams and a strong core, Chennaiyin struggled. With one win in six games it had appeared like John Gregory, then coach, had downed tools.

Owen Coyle was brought in and they haven’t looked back since. Under the former Bolton manager, they won eight games, went on a trail-blazing run that saw them knock out league phase champions FC Goa in the semifinal.

Nerijus Valskis suddenly found his scoring boots, Rafael Crivellaro and Lalrinzuala Chhangte spluttered into life. But perhaps, it was Vanspaul’s move from right back to central midfield that was key, allowing Anirudh Thapa to flourish.

“At the time coach (Gregory) was upset because he built the team and we weren’t getting results. We were upset too. So when Coyle came in, he had to build up the team. He told me I can make mistakes and he gave that freedom. (It) changed everything,” he says about the transformation.

It’s come to a head now. A final without fans. But for the friends, who will turn rivals for 90 minutes, it’s a culmination of years of hard work. From university matches to the ISL final via national team call-ups.

‘Nice to meet you too mach’, Soosairaj would tweet back with a heart emoji. They have arrived.

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