CHENNAI: At 31, Katsumi Yusa, who has played for Kolkata giants Mohun Bagan and East Bengal, might be entering the twilight of his career but the Japanese insists that he is far from being a spent force. The midfielder has been looking for a new challenge and jumped at the offer when I-League champions Chennai City FC (CCFC) approached to sign him from Neroca FC in April earlier this year.

However, Katsumi’s CCFC stint got off to a painful start as he twisted his ankle on the second day of his practice session last month and has been training on the sidelines since. But that has hardly dampened his spirits. With CCFC earning an AFC Cup spot, Katsumi, who had played a key role in Bagan’s I-League triumph back in 2014-15, said he is ready for the long season and wants to help CCFC defend the I-League title.

“I’ve been playing in India for the last nine years and have been a part of Bagan and EB. Courtesy of Bagan’s I-League win, I had played in the AFC Cup and Champions League. So I always wanted to go back and play that tournament and show the Asian clubs my ability. So when I got an offer in April, I didn’t think twice. Being defending champions, CCFC will be coming to the season with a lot of expectations. Things often get difficult when you have such a tag, but I wanted to experience it,” Katsumi, who is expected regain full fitness next week, told TOI on Saturday.

Training separately also meant that Katsumi doesn’t yet know which position coach Akbar Nawas will field him and is yet to adapt to the team’s possession-based style. With key left winger Nestor Gordillo leaving CCFC, he might be employed to fill the Spaniard’s shoes. “I need to adapt to the coach’s philosophy quickly. All these days, I was playing in a different style. So the passing style will be new to me. I have always played behind the striker but if the coach asks me to play as a winger, I would be ready,” Katsumi said.

While playing for Bagan and EB, Katsumi would hold the midfield together. Handling the pressure of expectations from fans had also made him tough and steadied his nerves. So Katsumi is eyeing a relaxed atmosphere at CCFC where he can concentrate only on his game. “It is difficult for a player to perform consistently in every match. So if I didn’t perform to the supporters’ expectations in one or two matches, the Bagan and EB fans would always vent their ire. So the officials would put us under tremendous pressure. So you have to prove yourself in every match and season. There is relatively less pressure at CCFC. So I can focus on my game better. In Kolkata, the pressure is so huge that you cannot concentrate 100 percent on the game and it forces you to make mistakes,” Katsumi said.

What will also ease the burden on Katsumi’s shoulders is the presence of CCFC’s Spanish players who had played a key role last season in the club’s triumph. “Earlier, I would take a lot of workload while playing at Bagan. The Spaniards here are intelligent, skillful and possess a lot of technical knowledge. So they will take the pressure off me,” he said.

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