The tough tackling defensive midfielder arrived without much fanfare to ATK last season, unlike his illustrious brother Michael Soosairaj. But the underrated player went on to be an important cog in the wheel for Antonio Habas, especially in the play-off and the final.
Having made his move to ATK after helping Chennai City FC to the I-League title, Regin ended up winning India‘s two domestic leagues in consecutive seasons. It was nothing less than what the midfielder from Eraviputhenthurai in Kanyakumari deserved, for it was the culmination of years of hardwork, coupled with a bit of misfortune.
“When they approached me to play in the ISL, I was very happy that I will be able to play with my brother in ISL together. They also told me this might be the first time brothers are playing together in the ISL. I was very happy,” Regin told Goal.
“He (Soosairaj) was even happier for me because I had a lot of problems with injuries before. Even last year at Chennai City, I had injuries but I got some matches towards the end. So I was very happy that they signed me.”
The 32-year-old could have had a bigger impact at ATK, had he not been sidelined by an ankle fracture at the beginning of the season.
“Before the season started, in August, there was a tournament in Kolkata. So, ATK asked their new Indian signings and some reserve players to form a team and play in order to get some match practice. Prabir (Das) and I were in that team. During a practice match, my ankle twisted and I suffered a fracture.
“I was supposed to be out till December but it took a lot of time before it healed properly. It only healed some 10 days before that NorthEast United game (27 January, 2020) and I got to play a few minutes in that match. But it was not completely healed even throughout the season. But the coach had some belief in me and I played through a bit of pain.”
Once he recovered from his injury, he made seven appearances for ATK including four starts. Three of those starts came in the play-offs and final, highlighting the trust that Antonio Habas had in the strongly built midfielder from Tamil Nadu. However, such unwavering backing from the coach was something that surprised even Regin.
“Even I was not sure why the coach trusted me so much in such crucial matches for the team – like play-offs and the finals. I was not sure I would have played in the final too. Normally, the coach would tell us in advance during the players meeting on the morning of the match what the playing XI is. But the play-offs and final, he revealed the team only after we reached the dressing room. Even a lot of other players were surprised at the trust the coach showed me,” revealed a coy Regin.
Regin did admit that the role that Habas asked him to perform in the ATK side was not something he was used to, having played in a more advanced role for Chennai City and his earlier teams. But he thanked the Spaniard for helping him understand the role better.
“He would always tell me during practice that you are going to play an important role and he did not want me to make even a single mistake since I was playing as a defensive midfielder. But it was not my game style. I used to play a lot more forward and do dribbling etc.
“He encouraged me a lot and my job was just to tackle, get the ball and immediately give it to a teammate. He used to coach me through the role. It took me a bit of time to understand the role. If my injury had healed earlier, I think I could have played even better in that role,” said Regin.
Though he had to fight off an injury and adapt to a new role, Regin ended up tasting success and played a key role in the final against Chennaiyin FC. It was nothing short of just reward for a player who missed out on professional football during some of his peak years physically.
Regin hails from a small village called Eraviputhenthurai in Kanyakumari. He is quick to accredit his group of about 30 friends from his hometown for whatever he has achieved in life, pointing out the support they have given him throughout.
“I used to play a lot during childhood with whatever means available. I have played football with that small rubber ball you use for cricket. Then there was a time we would play cricket a lot. When I was in Class XI and XII, we started playing football on the sand at the beach. I had a lot of friends there, around 30 of them. They were a huge support for me, encouraging me to play football seriously,” explained Regin.
Regin’s footballing fortunes turned for the better once he moved to Chennai to pursue college education. He started making a name for himself in footballing circuits, with his college and in the Chennai Football Association (CFA) leagues.
“Then I moved to Chennai to Loyola college on sports quota. In 2008, I was in my third year in college and I went to the University tournament and I was the best player in the final in the All India level competition. That achievement was a very important norm for sports quota jobs. Then I played for SBI (State Bank of India) in the CFA senior division. I was the best midfielder. Then they called me for Santosh Trophy in the Tamil Nadu team.”
However, a job offer from Railways was to turn his life around during a time that could only be described as an athlete’s peak. But it was a choice that the midfielder had to make, given his family circumstances.
“By that time, I got a call from the Railways who offered me a job in Bengaluru. I badly needed a job due to my family situation. And that too a Government job, it was a big thing. There was a referee called Suresh and I used to play for his team once. He had said once during an interview that Regin should not take a government job since he had the capability to play in the I-League. But at the time, I did not know it and nobody told me. Once I took up the job with Railways, I could not come out of it. I wouldn’t get permission to go out and play for other teams,” rued Regin.
For almost four-to-five years, Regin was bogged down in Bengaluru, his footballing involvement restricted to playing Santosh Trophy for Railways apart from a few local competitions – years that were crucial to an athlete. Even then, Regin managed to attract the attention of Bengaluru FC coach Ashley Westwood and could have played for them in the I-League but for a stroke of misfortune.
“Those were my peak years when my body would respond to what my mind wants. For almost 4-5 years, my life was the job at Railways and the tournaments, including Santosh Trophy and some local competitions.
“In 2014, there was a local tournament and in the quarter-final, we played well. But after the game, Bengaluru FC manager Ashley Westwood came to the field and there was a huge reception for him with the stadium on its feet. He shook my hand, and told me to leave my number with the BFC manager and that they will call me and offer me a deal. I was extremely happy.”
This was a period Regin feels his career would have taken a different turn if he had somebody to guide him properly.
“He told me that the team was going for the Federation Cup. He asked me to remain in Bengaluru and work on my fitness. He would talk to me after the Federation Cup. But at that time, Santosh Trophy came up and Railways asked me to join the team. I was obligated to go and unfortunately, the tournament lasted almost three months that year. By the time I came back, my chance to join BFC was gone. There was nobody to guide me properly at that time. It was a huge opportunity that I lost,” rued Regin.
However, the indomitable spirit and passion for the game in Regin meant it was not long before he managed to come back to Chennai and play for Chennai City in CFA senior division. And once the side got into the I-League, he finally got the chance at the national stage – something he should have achieved a fair few years back.
“Then I came out and started playing Chennai league before getting my chance with Chennai City and now I’m standing in the ISL.”
Regin, the tough character that he is, has taken it all in his stride and is focusing on enjoying the rest of his career.
“Those years were my peak. I might have lost those years, but I want to play hard even now. Age does not matter. I just need to practice harder,” he said with a measure of determination that will serve him well in the upcoming season and more.