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  Age on Sunday   18 Dec 2016  Warrior in the yellow jersey

Warrior in the yellow jersey

Published : Dec 18, 2016, 12:50 am IST
Updated : Dec 18, 2016, 4:10 am IST

Aaron Hughes talks about his love for his indian fans and how he plans to take forward his ISL dream.

Cedric Hengbart
 Cedric Hengbart

A Frenchman in Kerala has been getting a huge and vociferous fan following this ISL thanks to his central defensive wall with his captain Aaron Hughes. Cedric Hengbart, a centre-back for Kerala Blasters has been “hungry” for game… and that is all that matters to him, a wholesome game of football. The player says, “You have to be hungry to play, whether you win or lose.” Luckily for him, his team has the cup in sight with recent wins, in what admittedly was a “not-so-pretty but did-the-job” run up. He also stood in as captain when Kerala’s marquee player Hughes was taken away for Northern Ireland duty. They both have been resolute, making an unpenetrable team with their central defensive partnership.

The man who Steve Coppell calls the warrior is taking to India with aplomb and says that he is loving his time here… “experiencing the huge crowds at stadiums and the fanatic fan following is such a great feeling, we also have good team spirit,” he says. Seeing multitudes is something that his little town in France never experienced. His dream of qualifying for the final is something he is taking very seriously, especially now that the Kerala Blasters are in the semi-finals, but the man born in Falaise in France who is currently on centreback duty started with the French League Club S.M. Caen and A.J. Auxerre, and recalls it with fondness. And a bit of humour.

“My fondest memories are playing for Auxerre in the Champions League, when our team played with Real Madrid and all the big players. I am not a quiet person, and I think everybody knows that about me, back home and now in this team,” he admits sheepishly.

Happy to have gotten so far in his footie playing, Cedric smiles, “The team enjoys the energy on the field, our coach is good and if we have a problem, we can always talk to him. The senior players are also ever ready to help and mostly, we are here to learn,” says the player who has steadily taken opportunities to better his game, be it in the smaller divisions in France or, away in India.

Prod him about the Zidanes of the world, and what memories he has of the stars in Les Bleus, and all of Europe, hesitant, he says that while he knows all the big players, he admits to not being close but says Laurent Blanc, who coached Paris Saint-Germain is someone he looks up to. About how India became a footmark in his footie journey, he adds, “I wanted to try India, and only knew about French football, and I am glad that I did. This has been an interesting season,” says the player who has been instrumental in Kerala’s good fortunes. Of the memories playing in European leagues, he says, “Seeing and playing with Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi (on field) in 2011 in the League was memorable. I have played professionally with Caen, over 500 matches, played more than 300 matches in the second division in France and I am thankful for my career,” says Cedric who never dreamt of playing in an Indian football league, adding, “I like Kerala and its people, the backwaters are beautiful and I would like to travel around.”
Reminiscing about how his parents have been with him, through the highs and lows, the father of three children, a boy from an earlier relationship and two girls from his current one, he laughs, “I have three kids, a son and two daughters. My daughters are very young now, and they know I play football but that is all, I am strict, but I like to share moments with my children. With my son, we play tennis together, in fact, I like playing tennis. I love reading newspapers, but lots of tennis and some good moments with friends is what keeps me going.”

The Frenchman is still finding it hard to wrap his tongue around the spice that Indian food is renowned for, and he smiles, “Indian food is very difficult for me to adjust to, I don’t eat spicy food, and even in the hotel, we’ve been having pasta or potatoes though I like Tandoori chicken.”

The late 30s is not really the best place for a footballer to garner notches in his career, but Cedric is grounded in reality, and admits, “Thankfully, I am not fat, so I can eat what I want. I like to run alone, and there is always the fitness coach to help us. After a certain age, one has to keep trying. Young players, they have to love football, you can’t play football till 36, if you just focus on money or fame, it has to be a passion,” he cautions.

His advice is simple, “Don’t go with the aspiration of being a professional, football is a passion and you should pursue it wholeheartedly,” and on Indian football, he says, “Indian football has miles to go. There are not enough Indian academies and lots of players on the street, who are not used to being trained from a young age,” which he thinks is fast-changing. “I like all of India, and it’s so big. I like Sikkim, (from his experience playing for North East United), it is very beautiful. We want to win and we have very good players who are totally committed and we need to play more matches,” Cedric says.

When he goes back to France, Cedric hopes to play in any division he gets a chance to, if all goes well. But for now, his sights are on winning with his current team.

Tags: isl, kerala blasters, aaron hughes, cedric hengbart