Brandon Fernandes reveals what it means for him to play for FC Goa

Brandon Fernandes enjoyed a highly productive season with FC Goa in Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20. Goa’s midfield maestro finished the season as the highest Indian assist provider and helped clinch the first-ever League Winners Shield for the Gaurs. Coming from a family of passionate football fans, Brandon seemed destined to play the game ever since the first time he stepped onto the pitch.

“There was a lot of interest in football in my family. When I was young, I always had people who used to play football - on the streets, on the road, everywhere. I remember my first goal, it was in a U-12 tournament and I was seven years old. The first goal I scored was from a corner. It was a small ground so everybody thought I would cross the ball, but I just hit it straight into the net,” Brandon told host Anant Tyagi in the latest episode of Let’s Football.

The Indian playmaker, in fact, was always the youngest while playing football with others growing up. “I started at the age of seven and I was just training with Fransa-Pax. I was the youngest one when I played one tournament. From there, people started noticing me. The very next year, I played in a U-14 tournament and scored a few goals. There was a time that I came in the top 10 in a competition held by the Manchester United Soccer School and then we went to Manchester,” Brandon said.

He continued, “I got a chance to play for my national team in a U-13 tournament held in Bangladesh. And then I got a chance to play in U-14s and that was in Iran, Tehran. After that, I got selected for the ASD academy in South Africa. They gave me a call to come for trials, and then a 10-day trial. They really liked me and said you have a lot of potential; you just need to train and be sharper. And that's how I went to South Africa and spent two and a half years there. And then I came back and joined the elite club Sporting Clube de Goa and then from there my journey started in football.”

Hero ISL bow with Mumbai City FC

Even though he’s with his local state club now, Brandon began his Hero ISL journey with Mumbai City FC. “There was a lot of hype about the Hero ISL, I was very happy. This was the first time I played alongside Sunil Chhetri. And there was Nicolas Anelka, who was one of the best strikers in the world. They were very nice to me. Right from day one they supported me and spoke to me, tried to help me in different aspects of the game.

An injury, though, curtailed his playing time with the Islanders. “But unfortunately, I couldn't play a lot of matches because I picked up an injury. But they were still very positive about me and they were wanting me to play. They used to speak very positive about me. So that made me really happy and gave me that motivation to work extra. Overall, I think what I learned In Mumbai city FC was very helpful in my journey. I've learned a lot of good things there and it was like a learning thing for me and because of that experience I am better today.”

He had to wait till Hero ISL 2017-18 to find his feet in the league and unsurprisingly he did so after signing with Goa. “Before the draft I knew that three-four clubs were interested in me, but I was hoping that Goa would pick me first. I knew Goa would pick me and I was hoping that they picked me in the first three numbers. I spoke to one of the Mumbai guys and they told me that if Goa doesn't pick you in the fourth, we will pick you in the fifth. And I was like, Oh boy! Fortunately, they picked me in the fourth number,” Brandon revealed.

An emotional bond with FC Goa

“I always wanted to play for FC Goa, my home club. I was very happy when I heard they had picked my name. I was actually in Assam and on the way to the airport, coming back to Goa. I was checking the draft and I couldn't really express my feelings at that time. I came to Goa and everybody was like you are in FC Goa. I just wanted the season to start the next day because I was so excited about this, and to play soccer. So, it was an emotional moment,” he added.

While recalling his first goal for the Gaurs, he said, “My first goal was very special. It was an assist from Mandar (Rao Dessai) and it was a very special goal. We were losing 2-1 and I equalized, and then we went on to win the match 3-2. So, I think that goal gave us that victory. And also, it was my first goal at the Fatorda. It was pretty emotional. For me, it was a great feeling. I was very happy after scoring that goal.”

The 25-year-old, who scored two goals as well as provided seven assists for the Gaurs last season, also looked back on the campaign that made Goa the first team from India to qualify for the group stage of the AFC Champions League after winning the League Winners Shield.

“I think the ultimate goal was to win the Hero ISL. Winning the league took us to the AFC Champions League, so we shifted our focus a little bit on the Champions League because that would be a great experience for the players. From the start of the league we wanted to finish on top of the table. We achieved that objective and played very well in the league. We had some very good matches and scored a lot of goals,” Brandon recalled.

“When the semi-finals came, things changed. I was not able to play in the first leg, even (Hugo) Boumous and Edu Bedia (didn’t). When you have so many changes, the dynamic of the team changes. We did well but the only reason we couldn’t get through was because of our mistakes. If we could have corrected them, we could have reached the final,” he opined.

The Indian international also insisted that Goa might need time to produce their best while looking ahead to life under their new head coach Juan Ferrando. “I think Sergio Lobera left a mark on the club. Whenever we played under Lobera, people would say that FC Goa will win. Now the expectations will be even more. So, I feel when Juan Ferrando comes, he will have to build a team which can perform at the same level as Lobera. I think it will take a while as it’s never easy to bring out a performance at that level. I feel it will be difficult initially, but I believe that we will reach that mark soon,” Brandon said.

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