Defender Rahul Bheke has been a crucial figure in the backline of Indian Super League (ISL) side Mumbai City FC as well as the Indian national football team. 

With the ability to operate as a centre-back or full-back, the 33-year-old has solidified his reputation as one of the premier defenders in the ISL, amassing 139 appearances to date. Bheke's impact extends beyond defence, as evidenced by his five league goals, showcasing his proficiency at both ends of the pitch.

Notably, Bheke has secured silverware in the league, boasting an ISL Cup and League Shield among his achievements. Recently featured on the "In The Stands" show hosted by Suyash Upadhyaya, Bheke provided valuable insights into his football journey, shared experiences from his time at former club East Bengal FC, discussed his national team call-up, and more.

During the interview, Bheke disclosed his early foray into football as a left midfielder during his school days. Over time, he diversified his playing positions, excluding only those of the goalkeeper and striker.

“I was not a defender back in those (school) days. I used to play as a left half. So I was good in my crossings with the left. That’s how I started playing in school, like I was a left half. Then when I started playing professionally in Air India, I played three years over there, so I played different positions, like even I played left half, right half, sometimes I’d play centre half. I played left back, right back. So except the striker and goalkeeper’s position, I played all other positions,” he said in the episode.

Hailing from Mumbai, the defender ventured into Kolkata in 2015 with the ambition of making his mark in the Indian Super League (ISL) after signing with East Bengal FC from Air India. His stint with the Red & Golds spanned two seasons, from 2015 to 2017.

Rahul Bheke's ISL debut occurred during the 2015 season when he secured a loan deal with Kerala Blasters FC from East Bengal FC. Following this, he went on loan to represent Pune City FC in the subsequent season. The turning point in his career came when he signed with Bengaluru FC, experiencing significant success during his four-season tenure with the Blues. He eventually signed for Mumbai City FC, a club from his home city, whom he joined ahead of the 2021-22 season.

Despite a flourishing journey in the ISL, Bheke revealed a moment of disappointment. In the inaugural edition of the league in 2014, he was not signed by any team. 

“That year, prior to the CFL (Calcutta Football League), there was the ISL draft, so I really wanted to be a part of the ISL, in the second year. But, in the draft, I wasn’t picked up. I was extremely sad and disappointed and cried a lot in my room because I had come to East Bengal FC so that I would get the chance to go to the ISL, but that didn’t happen,” he sighed.

While donning the colours of East Bengal FC, Rahul Bheke achieved notable success by clinching back-to-back CFL titles with the club. His contributions on the field were substantial, earning him a consistent place in the first eleven and establishing himself as one of the team's key players.

Bheke's impact extended beyond individual accomplishments, as he played an integral role in the team's collective success. The CFL, known for its competitive and challenging atmosphere, left a lasting impression on Bheke. He considers the CFL environment to be the toughest he has ever experienced in his football career, highlighting the intensity and competitive nature of the league during his time with East Bengal FC.

“If you can survive in CFL, if you can do well in CFL, I think that’s the toughest thing, in my opinion. Not playing wise, but everything combined like you can hear the crowd, you can feel how people see you when you win or even when you lose,” he said.

In the iconic CFL decider Kolkata derby in 2015, against Mohun Bagan SG, Bheke scored the final goal for East Bengal FC in their 4-0 win, helping them lift the CFL title. 

He believes this was his career-defining moment, as soon after, he received an offer from Kerala Blasters FC to make his way through the ISL. 

“After that, Kerala Blasters FC needed a right back, and they contacted me,” he shared.

Rahul Bheke earned his first call-up to the Indian football team in 2019, a significant milestone in his career. He made his international debut against Curacao in an international friendly under the guidance of head coach Igor Stimac. Since then, Bheke has become a key player for the Blue Tigers, showcasing his skills and contributing to the national team's defensive lineup.

His notable performances for Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) likely played a crucial role in earning him a well-deserved call-up to the national team.

Recalling his first call up to the national team, Bheke revealed: “When I came in, I was happy, because it came at the right moment. At that moment I think it was 11 O'clock. They announced the list and my name was there, and the first call was from Sunil Chhetri.”