Going abroad to sit on the bench makes no sense: Brandon Fernandes
Sandesh Jhingan may yet be an exception, but so far every Indian footballer’s stint in Europe has been short-lived or undistinguished or both. That explains why Brandon Fernandes is careful about seeking a club abroad. “It has to be a team that really wants you,” said the FC Goa and India attacking midfielder who is in town for his first Durand Cup, the 130th iteration of which is being played with 16 teams.
Prior to a good campaign in the Asian Champions League, Fernandes signed a new deal with FC Goa till 2024. Having joined a Cape Town academy when he was 16, played in the lower leagues in South Africa and trialled in England before he was 21, Fernandes knows how easily things can fall apart. Like a coach being changed or being on trial when it is freezing. The first happened at Sunderland and the second at Leicester City, Fernandes told an Indian Super League (ISL) show in June.
“I had a dream to play abroad but things didn’t work out. So, I thought playing in India would be good as I would get regular football instead of just going for trials abroad. If you don’t get selected, your confidence goes down,” said Fernandes, who has 18 assists from 64 ISL games, the second most in the seven-season league after Hugo Boumous. Fernandes also has five goals in ISL.
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That doesn’t mean he has ruled out moving abroad, but if Fernandes does it would need some assurance of game time. “If you are not going to play you are wasting your years. If you are 15 or 18 and you get a chance to go to Europe, I would say yes. Then, I would get four-five years where I can train, use superior facilities and learn. But when you are 26, 27 just going there to sit on the bench, it doesn’t make sense.” Fernandes is 26.
India assignments bookend the Durand Cup. Fernandes was in the team that played Nepal in two friendlies and India are scheduled to leave for the SAFF Championship in Maldives later in the month. Fernandes said a draw and a win in Nepal wasn’t what India wanted but it was a good experience for the team.
One that continues to depend heavily on Sunil Chhetri for goals. Chhetri, 37, got his 75th international goal against Nepal earlier this month, over 16 years after scoring his first. Only Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and UAE’s Ali Mabkhout have more among active players. “You can say we are dependent on him but Sunil (also) has more experience. He knows where to be in and around the (penalty) area and that is why he scores most of the goals,” said Fernandes.
This before pointing out that midfielder Anirudh Thapa and forward Farukh Choudhary too scored in Nepal. “There will be new players who are going to score goals,” said Fernandes. In 10 internationals since debuting under Igor Stimac in 2019, Fernandes has three assists—all in the last World and Asian Cup qualifying cycle where India scored six goals in as many games—but no goal yet. “I am sure I am going to get one pretty soon,” he said when asked if he would trade an assist for a goal.
Fernandes said his role for India is simple: “To receive the ball and distribute, and when we are defending do my bit to help the team stay compact.” One of the things Stimac was signed up for was to change the way India play. “We want to keep the ball and not just go direct. You do that (play a long ball) when there are no spaces to pass,” said Fernandes whose long, accurate pass helped FC Goa score against Champions League runners-up Persepolis in April.
On their debut in Asia’s apex club competition, FC Goa had three draws in a group that also had top Qatar team Al Rayyan and UAE’s Al Wahda.
“The Champions League was one of my best experiences in football,” said Fernandes, who comes from a sports loving family in Goa. His mother played kabaddi, brothers are named after footballers, his sister played the sport in college and his father got Fernandes his first custom-made studs when he was two. “It is not easy to keep clean sheets against such teams (FC Goa had two). I am sure everybody has got that confidence that we can play against any team. We are not scared.”
With two wins from as many games, FC Goa are in the quarter-finals of the Durand Cup. “If we win this, it will give us huge boost for ISL,” said Fernandes. Playing in Asia’s oldest tournament also means pre-season games. “Last season, the pre-season was short and we couldn’t get enough games before the league; that could be one of the reasons we started slow. This season we are here, we can play competitive football, get good matches and when we go to ISL we will be ready.” ISL starts in Goa on November 19.
Does it surprise him that his former team and 16-time winners Mohun Bagan, who merged with ATK last year, have skipped the Durand Cup in Kolkata? India’s go-to player for corner-kicks and free-kicks skipped a direct reply: “I was hoping that all ISL teams would participate.”
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