Cole Alexander had sought advice from many quarters in South Africa when Odisha FC and the ISL came calling for him earlier this year, but nothing had prepared him for the ‘lush greenery’ of his new home.
“My earliest impression of India is that it is more beautiful than anybody could have told me,” said Alexander, who is only the second ever South African to grace the ISL.
The ISL bio-bubble has not allowed Alexander to taste as much of Indian culture as he would like, but the sights from the window as the team bus heads from Betalbatim in south Goa across the Zuari river to the Bambolim stadium have already stolen his heart.
“The shift in culture has been interesting, to say the least. The weather here is very different from South Africa, but we are adapting well. The club staff and the hotel staff have all been very friendly, but I really look forward to when the restrictions are lifted,” said Alexander, who has been put up along with his wife at the team hotel in Goa till the end of the season.
A precious little bundle is on the way. What an exciting time for the Alexander family! 👶
— Odisha FC (@OdishaFC) December 1, 2020
Alexander has seamlessly blended into the role of midfield general at the heart of Odisha FC, but this is the first time he has made a move outside his home country.
A country he did not consider in his plans at all until a few months ago has now become inextricably linked to his future — both as a player and on a personal front: Alexander is going to become a father soon and the birth of his child is likely to take place in India.
Reunion with a legendary figure in South African football
As recently as in September, Alexander was helping his last club – Bidvest Wits – clinch a fourth-place finish in the South African national league. He even scored a goal in his club’s last match of the season. A few days later, despite interest from title contenders Kaizer Chiefs, Alexander had signed on with Odisha FC.
“Stuart Baxter (the current Odisha FC coach and former South Africa national team coach) was one big reason why I chose India and not clubs in South Africa,” said the 31-year-old.
Alexander had played for the South Africa team under Baxter in 2017. The Englishman is one of the highest rated coaches in South Africa, and when the chance came to reunite with him, the decision was simple, said Alexander, the first Bafana Bafana import brought to India by Baxter.
“Stuart Baxter has helped me grow both as a footballer and as a person. It is a privilege to work with him again,” said Alexander.
Stuart Baxter has lured former Bidvest Wits midfielder Cole Alexander to Hero Indian Super League (ISL) side Odisha FC.
— Kick Off (@KickOffMagazine) October 10, 2020
“Anyone in South Africa would tell you he is a very giving manager. He leaves players better equipped on the field than he found them. And in return, players are ready to bite the bullet for him,” he said.
The other thing that has stood out in the ISL for Alexander has been ambition – in terms of the quality of foreign players and coaches being brought in as well as the drive he has seen in young Indian players. Gaurav Bora and Vinit Rai, the two midfielders he is likely to link up with the most for Odisha, both have immense potential, he said.
Speaking about his Bidvest Wits teammate Sameehg Doutie, the first South African to have played in the ISL, Alexander said, “To be honest, I did not have much of a discussion with Sameehg on living in India, but he did wish me the best for my journey.”
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines