The transformation of Mandar Rao Dessai - FC Goa's own

Change is never easy, surely not when you are 27. Mandar Rao Dessai probably didn’t have a choice when FC Goa coach Sergio Lobera told him to play as a left-back last season. Since then, Mandar has excelled in that ‘new’ position and even made it to the national team.

Having started off as a winger, how did the transformation come along? In a recent interview, the FC Goa captain revealed, "During the pre-season in Spain last year, coach (Sergio) Lobera told me that I could do well in this position. He asked me if I would be comfortable, before fielding me in the first game in Spain. As the season progressed, I tried my best to learn the art of defending, given that this was not the position I played in the previous seasons. Coach told me that if I keep doing well in the position, I could play as a left-back in the national team too."

Soon enough, Lobera's foresight came true and Mandar was handed his national team debut by India head coach Igor Stimac during the Hero Intercontinental Cup 2019 match against Tajikistan. It was a dream come true for a player, who had always been at the doorstep of the national team for years but never quite managed to take the first step in. Playing in the blue jersey, Mandar was also a part of India's historic draw against reigning Asian champions Qatar in the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers match at Doha. Reminiscing about the match, he said, "Facing the Asian champions was a tough task. We tried to do our best and keep a good rhythm. Between the defenders and midfielders, we kept it compact and therefore got a good result against them."

The rewards, however, didn't come easy. Speaking about the hard work he had to put in to make the change, Mandar stated, "For me, it was a new challenge to play at left-back. I had to change my whole game, I watched a lot of videos online to improve."

Having been a part of the FC Goa since the Hero ISL's opening season, the 27-year-old is one of the rare one-club men in the Hero ISL currently and more importantly, the captain of the team. The Mapusa-born player revealed exactly how much of an influence being part of the Gaurs setup has had on him and said, "I am grateful to have been coached by one of the legends of the global game, Zico. One also learns when you play in front of a huge crowd backing you and when you experience being in the national team. Former FC Goa players Robert Pires and Lucio were instrumental in developing my game and I hope to do the same for the upcoming youngsters at the club."

Having won their first piece of silverware with the Hero Super Cup 2019, the Gaurs, led by Mandar, will be eager to get their hands on the coveted trophy. Like Mandar's tryst with the national team in the past, it has always been 'so close yet so far' affair between FC Goa and the Hero ISL title, with the team having reached two finals and two semi-finals in the first five seasons but never managing to take the trophy home. Armed with the experience of having made one of his long-standing dreams come true, can Mandar inspire FC Goa to fulfil their five-year-long ambition in Hero ISL 2019-20?

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