Poet who gained a warrior's spirit – the evolution of Brandon Fernandes
For anyone with a finger on the pulse of Indian football over the past few years, FC Goa's Brandon Fernandes leading the Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2019-20 assists chart heading into the new year hardly comes off as a surprise. In terms of technical ability and his vision to pick out teammates with precise passes and set pieces, the Goa-born midfielder has always been a cut above the rest in the country. With Brandon turning 25 back in September, often considered the beginning of the peak years for creative midfielders or wingers like him, his five assists and two goals this season can very well be considered a product of the maturity talented players in the ilk of Brandon achieve with age.
However, perhaps the real measure of exactly how much the Margao-born attacking midfielder has grown, rather evolved, isn't quite restricted to his offensive contributions this season. A closer look at his overall stats for the season and comparing it to the last, reveals a very interesting stat - Brandon's tackles tally. The 25-year-old has already put in 43 tackles in the 10 matches he played this season, two more compared to his tally of 41 in the entirety of last season.
A brief glimpse at the current tackles leaderboard further reveals, Brandon currently stands in sixth position. In the top ten of the leaderboard, the 25-year-old finds himself in company of players like Ahmed Jahouh, Aitor Monroy, Seriton Fernandes, Shubham Sarangi, Javier Hernandez, Lenny Rodrigues, Redeem Tlang, Mourtada Fall and Robin Gurung. Barring Redeem and Brandon, all are specialised defensive midfielders or outright defenders - players who are expected to feature in the tackles leaderboard. Taking Redeem's case, too, the NorthEast United FC midfielder, even though he is being used in a more advanced position by Robert Jarni this season, is more renowned as a combative midfielder than an attacking asset. The presence of an outright attacking player like Brandon in the list is definitely surprising. While on the surface, the stat might not quite come off as a striking revelation, in Brandon's context, it's particularly significant.
To illustrate, we need to turn the clock back to 2015 - the year Brandon started his footballing career in India. Having trained abroad, Brandon's technical abilities, particularly his set piece prowess, were evident from his early days but there were serious questions about the more physical and defensive aspects of his game, making him more of a luxury offensive asset than a regular starter. The aspect particularly hampered his time at Mohun Bagan back in 2016, as he struggled to adapt to the more physical aspect of Kolkata football. Constant injuries, too, didn't help his cause.
Even last season, as he became a regular feature in Sergio Lobera's FC Goa squad en route to their run to the final, Brandon's defensive workload mostly relied on his game reading capabilities and affecting interceptions rather than engaging in duels for possession - somewhat in lines with the stereotype associated with him.
Things, however, changed once Brandon got his maiden call up to the India team for the King's Cup back in June 2019 under new head coach Igor Stimac. In his debut against Curacao, Brandon was slotted into a very unfamiliar position as one half of the two-man pivot rather than his usual slot on the left. While his primary role was to dictate the play from deep, going up against a strong side, Brandon's mettle was due for a tough test against a physically imposing Curacao side. Despite the Blue Tigers losing the match, Indian fans saw Brandon in a new avatar, always willing to get stuck in and putting himself about when the opposition had possession. Brandon has slowly established himself as a mainstay in Stimac's India team since then and apart from his passing and technical abilities, the 25-year-old's new-found defensive grit has had a big part to play behind that.
Coming into the Hero ISL, Brandon has carried the trait with him and needless to say, Goa have profited from it. We have already seen Sergio Lobera using Brandon from the deep on multiple occasions this season, particularly in matches where the Spaniard was without midfield ace Ahmed Jahouh. Brandon, too, has repaid the trust on every occasion putting in solid shifts alongside Lenny Rodrigues whenever he has been asked to perform the role. Jahouh, without doubt, is one of the best deep-lying midfielders to have ever set foot in India and effectively replacing him, particularly in the way Goa operates, is no mean task. Brandon, however, has done a commendable job.
Even when Brandon is playing on the wings, or centrally further up the field, his new-found ability to drop off and act as a defensive screen has also served as an enabler for the likes of Lenny and Jahouh to make late runs into the opposition half, thereby putting the opposition marking in disarray. For reference, Lenny has already scored twice this season while Jahouh, very recently, scored his first-ever goal in the Hero ISL. In comparison, the two defensive midfielders together accounted for zero goals last season.
On the ball, Brandon was always a poet, but having added a warrior’s spirit while off it, it’s a brand new Brandon Goa fans are being treated to in Hero ISL 2019-20.
Check out more stats from the Hero ISL here.