Borges: Idolized Climax Lawrence, Zidane and Ronaldo while growing up

One of the first names on the team sheet, midfielder Rowllin Borges is among the most sought-after players in his position in the country. A gifted midfield general who can do it all, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that he grew up learning the game by watching some of the best players in the country and abroad, including his idol and legendary Indian midfielder Climax Lawrence.

“When I was a kid, my dad used to take me for football matches at Fatorda. Growing up my childhood hero was Climax bhai. Then I used to love watching Sunil (Chhetri) bhai and foreigners like Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo, they were my idols. So, when I used to go watch them play and at that time matches were at 4:30 in the evening, my aim was to watch them and learn. After watching the matches, I used to come and play with my friends and try executing those things that I used to watch during the matches,” Borges told host Anant Tyagi in the latest episode of Let’s Football Live.

Borges began his professional career in his home state Goa with Sporting Clube de Goa. However, he had to wait to make his mark in the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL). The 28-year-old, in fact, made his national team breakthrough before playing in the Hero ISL.

“When I got the first call-up, I was surprised. I wasn’t getting much game time at Sporting then… so when I got the first call-up, I was really surprised and wondered if my name was really there. Then when it came out in the newspapers, I believed that ‘okay, I am there in the team’. When I first broke into the team, Cavin Lobo and Francis Fernandes, both of whom I knew from before helped me in the dressing room. I was so nervous because sharing the same dressing room as Sunil bhai and Jeje (Lalpekhlua) is a nervous feeling,” he said.

Joining the Highlanders

Borges, though, admitted being frustrated while waiting for his shot in Indian football’s premier division. “It was frustrating (to not play the first two Hero ISL seasons) but I knew that eventually I will make it and play. Then I got a call from the national team and after that I was given a contract by NorthEast United FC. I felt a lot of pressure in 2016 because it was the first time that I was playing outside Goa,” the midfielder said.

He continued, “I was nervous but my teammates, management and even the other coaches helped me and I had a pretty good season. Even though it didn’t turn out as well as we wanted, but as a team we did our best and fought till the end.”

Once he did join the Hero ISL, it wasn’t all plain sailing for the combative midfielder. After narrowly missing out on the semis with NorthEast United FC in 2016, it was in the following season that he struggled to perform at his best. Having missed the first few games of Hero ISL 2017-18 due to injury, Borges couldn’t quite produce his best and was low on confidence.

All that changed in Hero ISL 2018-19 and Borges credited former Highlanders head coach Eelco Schattorie for his turnaround in fortunes, which saw him score four goals, provide two assists and boast a passing accuracy of almost 83%. “The previous season was the worst of my career. But then Eelco came in and he gave me the confidence and that gave me a boost to do so well. I think the credit goes to the coach, Eelco, who gave me that confidence to go up, score, run, do what I want, enjoy myself and just do my best. That confidence helped me get those numbers,” Borges revealed.

The Indian international also expanded on some of the relationships he shared with his teammates in NorthEast. We all know that Bartholomew Ogbeche and Federico Gallego are good players, but they are good human beings as well. Not just them but all the foreigners and Indian players in the dressing room were good. They were ready to listen to you as well as tell you what needed to be done while playing and during practice. We were like a family and brothers,” he declared.

A new challenge with Mumbai City FC

However, after three seasons with NorthEast, Borges felt the need to test himself in a new environment. “I wanted a new challenge and the way that Mumbai was playing under coach Jorge Costa was physical. I wanted to test the physical side of my game. So, before signing they told me the coach will be staying. So, I wanted to test my physicality and the defensive side of my game,” he insisted.

While elaborating on his experience with the Islanders so far, Borges stated, “It has been really good and I have enjoyed it a lot. The fans have been amazing and they have supported the team in every match. Even though we didn’t finish the way we wanted, the fans have always been there behind us and that’s amazing.”

On Mumbai City’s new co-owners, the City Football Group (CFG) – who also own clubs like Manchester City, Girona and New York City – Borges added, “CFG are the best at what they do. Them coming to a place like Mumbai shows the potential of the city. It will be a good learning experience. In a few years it will be a club that everyone wants to join.”

Interestingly, one of Borges’ most memorable moments in national colours happened at the Islanders’ home stadium, the Mumbai Football Arena. “Winning the Hero Intercontinental Cup (in 2018) was one of the most memorable moments (in the stadium). After playing with teams like Kenya, Chinese Taipei and New Zealand, it was a great learning experience for us. And the way we won it was one of the sweetest memories that I will cherish my entire life,” he enthused.

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