Former Hero ISL champion Erik Paartalu believes that Mumbai City FC’s Rahul Bheke is the best defender in India. The 36-year-old defensive midfielder praised his former Bengaluru FC teammate for his performance in the AFC Champions League.

While speaking to Injury Time India, the Australian said, “For me, Bheke is the best Indian I've played with, and you only got to look at his record. What he's done at the AFC Champions League game. He scored in the Super Cup final and scored a goal in the ISL final too. Also, the first Indian to score in the Champions League. When you watch him play, he looks very graceful.”

The Australian midfielder was right about the 31-year-old Mumbai City FC defender as he has the knack of popping up at the right moments to score vital goals. Over the last three years playing for two teams, Bheke has scored arguably the biggest goals in both the clubs’ history.  

It was on a March 2019 evening in Mumbai that a local player Bheke, donning a Bengaluru FC kit, headed a corner into the FC Goa net for a 117th-minute winner that handed his team the maiden Hero Indian Super League (ISL) title. It was another header that delivered the match-winning goal in Mumbai City FC’s 2-1 win against Iraq’s Air Force Club in their AFC Champions League (ACL) tie in Riyadh last month, recording a first-ever win by an Indian club in the continental competition in conjunction with Bheke being the first Indian goalscorer in the tournament.

Paartalu was impressed with the body structure of Bheke as it’s rare to find Indian players with such built. “He’s got a body that it looks as though it hasn't been built here. And that's not been disrespectful. But you can see, he has a lot of muscle and the way he controls and glides with the ball. It's something you can't even be taught. He just has an ability and confidence that you don't expect when you see him receive the ball. You're gonna go and close him down. I'm going to get the ball and he just somehow gets the ball. So as a defender, I don't think there's better than him in the country,” he added.

The conclusion of Hero ISL 2021-22 season and the AFC Champions League might not have borne fruit for the Mumbai-born footballer, but his guard stands strong in the backline, be it for the Islanders or the Blue Tigers.