Odisha FC talisman, Diego Mauricio, showcased remarkable resilience and determination in front of the goal, contributing to an unforgettable season for the Juggernauts.

When Mauricio first joined Odisha FC in 2020, he had mixed feelings. Despite finishing third in the goal-scoring charts during the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2020-21 season, the team, unfortunately, ended up at the bottom of the table. Upon his return to Odisha FC after a one-year gap, the Brazilian forward made a triumphant comeback, driven by his determination to complete unfinished business. He arrived with the same hunger and desire to succeed that he had previously shown.

The forward constantly posed a threat to opposing defences with his exceptional football skills throughout the Hero ISL 2022-23 campaign, securing the prestigious Golden Boot award with an impressive tally of 12 goals and four assists in 21 games.

The 31-year-old carried his scintillating form to the Hero Super Cup and Hero Club Playoffs, where he played a pivotal role in Odisha FC's triumphant journey. He was honoured with the Hero of the Tournament award in the Hero Super Cup, having contributed five goals and two assists to the team's success.

In the Hero Club Playoffs match against Gokulam Kerala FC, the forward delivered a spectacular hat-trick, showcasing his immense talent on the pitch once again. His exceptional performance in that crucial match helped Odisha FC secure a spot in the AFC Cup 2023-24 group stage.

The talisman spoke to indiansuperleague.com in an exclusive interview, discussing his exceptional season, winning the Golden Boot award, securing a berth at the continental stage, his bond with the club, and more.

Here are the excerpts:

How does it feel to have that Golden Boot around you?

The feeling is nice because (I am) the top scorer in the league. (I) scored a lot of goals, and the team played well. For me, I think this season was the best season of my life. I am feeling great because I put (my) everything this season and it gave me back so many good things.

You obviously had different competitors like Bartholomew Ogbeche and other strikers from other teams. But when did you think that you would definitely win the Golden Boot this season?

There were a lot of players and many strikers. In India, there are plenty of good players, but for me, I do my job every day in training. I push myself harder because for me you have to push yourself and it is impossible to win something without pushing yourself. You take the individual trophies, you take the collective trophies, and it is impossible to win them without pushing yourself. This season, everything has been good.

You worked with Josep Gombau in the Hero ISL and then with Clifford Miranda in the Hero Super Cup. So how influential were they?

I think both of them were very good, starting with Josep and then finishing the campaign with Clifford. I spent a long time with Josep. He helped me a lot, as well as the team. He brought out the best from his players.

After transitioning to Clifford, it was the same. Clifford served as my mentor, always encouraging his players to perform well and win the championship. I had conversations with him in the dressing room after becoming the Hero Super Cup champions by defeating Bengaluru FC, and also after winning the Hero Club Playoffs against Gokulam Kerala FC. He is a very nice guy.

What makes Odisha FC special to you? You played one season with them in the bio bubble, and now you're back again. This season, you played in Bhubaneswar. So, tell us what makes the club special according to you?

Now it is even more special, of course, because in my first season with Odisha FC, I performed well (individually), but the team didn't have great results. Additionally, the fans were not present. We were playing in the bio bubble in Goa for six to seven months, confined to the hotel without going outside.

Now, it is more special to play with Odisha FC because I can play in front of our home fans and also (travel to) away games. I have the opportunity to travel to various places in India (during my off-time). This season has been very special for me because I have formed a strong connection with the club, players, staff, management, and even the Club president.

Who is that guy from the squad who is very close to you?

In my first professional club, I had a lot of friends. Here also, everyone is a good friend (of mine). In Odisha FC, starting from the head coach to the director, to the president, to the owner, I have a great connection with everyone.

Sometimes, players used to (tease me), saying, "Diego, are you a player or a manager because you're friends with everyone (laughs)."

It is difficult to pick just one or two individuals. I have a strong connection with everyone involved with this club.

This season, which matches, according to you, had the biggest atmosphere from the fans? Like, did you get goosebumps as you stepped out on the pitch?

I (can say) a lot of games, especially at home. The matches against Hyderabad FC, FC Goa, Kerala Blasters FC, Bengaluru FC, and Mumbai City FC. In these five games, the atmosphere in our home stadium was really good.

You've played in the AFC Champions League previously with Mumbai City FC, and now you will be playing in the AFC Cup with Odisha FC. How was your experience in the AFC Champions League, and what will be your aim in the AFC Cup with Odisha FC?

It was an incredible experience with Mumbai City FC, being the first Indian club to win a game in the AFC Champions League, and I even scored a goal in that match. It was a truly amazing moment.

Now, as Odisha FC qualified for the AFC Cup for the first time, I scored in the qualifying game as well. Once again, it was a crazy moment for me.

Having the experience of playing against top teams in the AFC Champions League, I am looking forward to the AFC Cup. We will be competing against different clubs, each with their own unique tactics. It will be a new challenge for the club, but it will also be a valuable learning experience for both the players and the club as a whole.

What is your overall aim for the next season across all competitions in which Odisha FC would be competing?

We had a long season this time, which was good for us and the club. As we approach the next season, our aim is to continue working hard and see what it brings us.