At the age of 21, when youngsters begin to plan their future, a shy lad from the north of Goa is taking small towards living his dream of playing football for the Indian national team. Mandar Rao Desai is one of the few youngsters to be presented with a senior team contract at the end of the 2012-13 season. In my sojourn to track young un-recognised football talents in India, I was privileged to have a chat with the promising youngster who believes that he has got the X-factor that can make him the most sought after player in the country. The calm and composed guy talks about his vision and dream as a professional footballer.
Q. How were you introduced to the game of football?
Mandar: I have been playing football since childhood. When most of my friends preferred taking a cricket bat and hitting the ball, I preferred having the ball at my feet. As everyone knows that football is more like an obsession in this part of the country, no one really discouraged me when I shared my dream of becoming a professional footballer. Initially, it started with me being selected into the school team, then in the subsequent years I also played for my college team. It was from my college that I was selected to play for Dempo’s junior team. Since then, there has been no looking back.
Q. How did your parents react when you shared your dream of becoming a professional footballer?
Mandar: As you know, I hail from Mapusa where football is more like an obsession and Dempo is the club that we follow. When I said that I was selected to play for Dempo, they were very happy and backed my decision to go forward and realise my dream of playing professional football. It is because of their prayers and blessings that I have done so well in the game.
Q. How happy are you to sign a new contract with Dempo SC?
Mandar: I am very happy to sign a new contract with Dempo. As everyone knows, Dempo is a very big club not only in Goa, but in the entire country. I consider myself lucky to sign a senior contract with such a big club.
Q. What does it mean for you to put on the blue shirt on a match day and walk out of the tunnel with the team for the kick-off?
Mandar: Putting on the blue shirt on a match day is a big thing for a guy like me who has grown up listening to the tales of Dempo’s legends. I feel the added responsibility of winning and bringing glory to the club that has been entrusted on me by the coaching staff and the manager, and I can assure all the fans that I will always work towards the common goal of winning matches for Dempo.
Q. How hungry are you to learn from your seniors and the coaches at Dempo SC?
Mandar: I consider this new contract as an opportunity to learn more about the game from the experienced players like Clifford, Jewel, and many more. I think it is the hunger to know more and learn more from the game that keeps me going in the team.
Q. How has it been working with the new head coach of the team, Arthur Papas?
Mandar: I believe Arthur is more of a teacher and a guide than a manager. He makes sure that every player is the team is kept aware of his mistakes. This year we have seen more of on-the-ball training, which has helped us develop our passing and positioning skills.
Q. How excited are you about the new season, which would begin in a month’s time?
Mandar: Every season provides me with an opportunity to express myself and impress the selectors. Moreover, this will be my first complete season with the senior team. I wish to gain more experience during my tenure with the team. We are aiming to win the tournaments in which we will participate this season, including the I-League. I am confident that with the current squad, we can surely aim for the silverware
Q. Have you set any personal goals for the season?
Mandar: I would be lying if I say I have no personal goals. I will be trying to cement my place in the I-League squad and will also try to get as much of playing time as I can. I also wish to break into the national side very soon.
Q. What are the few things that inspire you and ensure that your future will be long and successful?
Mandar: I would say that it is the hard work that I put into my game which inspires me to do well. It has always been the struggle to win a game for my team that has acted as an inspiration for me.
Q. To end, we would like to know whom do you idolise from the field of football?
Mandar: From the European league, I would say Ronaldinho. I have been following Dinho for a very long time and have also been learning from his YouTube videos. From the Indian circuit, I follow Clifford’s (Miranda) game very closely. As I play the same position as he does, it has also helped me develop my game.