ISL 2020-21: Anirudh Thapa extends stay at Chennaiyin FC 

Two-time Indian Super League champions Chennaiyin FC on Thursday confirmed the participation of star national team mid-fielder Anirudh Thapa and nine other Indian players for the upcoming season of the tournament.

ISL 2017-18 winner Thapa, who joined the club as an 18-year-old in 2016, is currently on a multi-year contract and is set for his fifth campaign in the Chennaiyin jersey.

Winner of the 2018 AIFF Men’s Emerging Player of the Year award, Thapa is joined by compatriots Thoi Singh, Dhanpal Ganesh, Sinivasan Pandiyan, Edwin Sydney Vanspaul, Vishal Kaith, Lallianzuala Chhangte, Deepak Tangri and Rahim Ali for the 2020-21 campaign as they all have existing contracts.

Versatile mid-fielder Abhijit Sarkar is also set to return to the CFC ranks after a successful loan spell at East Bengal in the I-League last season.

Chennaiyin FC co-owner Vita Dani said, “Our commitment is to build on the previous campaign in the strongest fashion. And the presence of our key Indian players including the likes of Thapa will go a long way in achieving that.”

“It has been particularly pleasing to see Thapa’s rise in stature for both club and country, that too at such a young age.

“He has gone from strength to strength since joining us four years back as a teenager and has now firmly established himself as an integral part of the first-team setup.”

After graduating from the AIFF Elite Academy in 2016, Thapa benefitted from a training stint at French club FC Metz that was facilitated by CFC.

On returning from France, Thapa joined CFC’s senior team with head coach Marco Materazzi at the helm.

The Italian World Cup winner was impressed by what he saw of the boy from Dehradun, and Thapa went on to make his CFC debut against FC Goa in the final game of the ISL 2016 season.

The following campaign under Englishman John Gregory’s stewardship was the young creative mid-fielder’s breakthrough season. He registered two goals and one assist in 16 appearances as Chennaiyin went on to lift the ISL title for a second time.

Furthermore, Thapa’s rapid rise has been rewarded with a regular run in the Indian team, with him netting his first goal for the Blue Tigers in the memorable 4-1 win over Thailand in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

“All of us at CFC are hungrier than ever to win silverware again. But for that, we need to work incredibly hard and be prepared for the new season. We need to retain the mentality that took us to the final last season,” Thapa said.

“I can’t wait to get back on the ball and begin training with my teammates,” added the 24-time capped India international, who is also the ISL’s youngest goalscorer in play-off matches after having netted in the 2017-18 semis against FC Goa, aged 20.

With 68 appearances for CFC across competitions, Thapa is looking forward to the new season.

ISL has officially confirmed that the 2020-21 campaign will be held in Goa with Chennaiyin to play their nine home games at the GMC Athletic Stadium in Bambolim.

They will be sharing the venue with Mumbai City FC, Kerala Blasters FC, and Odisha FC, meaning the three away games against these opponents will also be played there.

Chennaiyin are quite familiar with the stadium, having used it in previous seasons for practice sessions, including for the semi-final second-leg and final in the 2019-20 campaign.