We want to prove our mettle at the highest level: Mumbai City FC defender Rahul Bheke
Mumbai City FC defender and captain Rahul Bheke was delighted with his side's 3-1 victory over Jamshedpur FC in the Hero Club Playoffs match at the Payyanad stadium in Manjeri, Kerala.
With this win, the Islanders became the first Indian side to earn back-to-back qualification in the AFC Champions League.
After a series of loan spells and stints in the Hero I-League, Bheke got his breakthrough when he signed for East Bengal FC, who were playing in that league back in 2015. His impressive performances earned him loan moves to Kerala Blasters FC and FC Pune City in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL).
With his consistency and experience to lead, the defender then joined Bengaluru FC, where he was a part of the Blues' title-winning team, and was then signed by Mumbai City FC. Under his leadership, the Islanders won their record-breaking League Shield and qualified for the AFC Champions League for the second time in their history.
For captain and full-back Rahul Bheke, playing in the Champions League is all about improving Indian football’s standing on the continental level.
“It’s very important for any club to be able to represent India at this level. We have already done that once, and we are so happy that we will be able to do it again next season. It is the top level of football in Asia, and we want to prove our mettle there,” Bheke said in an exclusive interview with the-aiff.com.
Despite being a defender, the 32-year-old is also known for his attacking attributes, and is always on the hunt for goal contributions. The defender made history as he became the first Indian to net a goal in the Champions League in their 2-1 victory over Iraqi side Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya. Following his splendid run of performances, he expects to better his previous performances.
Indian clubs can be competitive in the continental circuit, feels @RahulBheke 🤜🤛#IndianFootball ⚽— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) April 5, 2023
“That was the first time we played (in the AFC Champions League) at that level, and I think everyone was surprised by our performance. We thought it would be very difficult, but once we got used to the level, we felt that we could also match those clubs. Physically, of course, they are in a better place, and the intensity was high, but we were able to show that hard work can take you places,” said Bheke.
The Indian defender is also a key figure in the national team and features consistently for the Blue Tigers. He was part of the team that won the recently conducted Hero Tri-Nation International Football Tournament in Imphal, defeating Myanmar (1-0) and Kyrgyz Republic (2-0) at the Khuman Lampak Stadium. The full-back believes that India is now at a level where it can be competitive in Asia.
“Even with the National Team, we are always there, competing with the best teams in Asia. One can never say that the boys are lagging behind in terms of pace or intensity, so I think that’s always a great sign,” he said.
The Mumbai-born player will now lead an all-Indian Mumbai City FC side in the Hero Super Cup, where they are drawn in the same group as Hero ISL outfits Chennaiyin FC and NorthEast United FC. It will be another objective for the Islanders and the full-back to finish the season with more silverware. As for Mumbai City FC, being the favourites, will look for the extra edge that will help them give the much needed motivation.
“The Super Cup is one of our targets this season. Of course, the first target was securing Champions League qualification, which we have done. Now it’s important for us to go back, recover well, and prepare for the cup,” Bheke concluded.