The 27-year-old Goan footballer currently the first names in the National team and FC Goa as well.
Brandon Fernandes, born in Margao, is an Indian professional footballer who plays as an attacking midfielder for both FC Goa and the Indian national team.
Although this promising icon is primarily deployed as an attacking midfielder in the playing eleven , can also play on both the left and the right wings.
Brandon is the only Indian player to have represented India in all age-groups as he has played at the U-13, U-16, U-17 and U-19 levels and now he is a vital part of the senior team.
PRATYUSHA MUKHERJEE talked to BRANDON FERNANDES during the on going Indian Super League ( ISL).
Q: Let us start with your life journey.Your early days of playing football, school, college etc.Who inspired you to play football?
A: I was attracted to football from a young age. I was born in a family that values sports a lot. My mother is a Kabaddi player at the national level and my father was involved in football as well. Even my siblings have played football at college levels.
Once my brother took me to play football with his friends. I remember scoring three-straight goals despite being the youngest there and everyone really praised how I played. I think it’s one of those moments when you start falling in love with the game.
I started at the age of six in the youth set-up at Fransa-Pax. Once they disbanded their football operations, I moved on to playing in the under-14 side at the Velsao Pale Sports Club as an 8-year-old.
I was then signed by Salgaocar where I represented the team at the under-14, under-16, and under-19 levels.
I was getting serious about a career in football at that time. And to take things further, I gained an enrolment at the ASD Football Academy in Cape Town, South Africa.
After coming back to India, I signed a contract with Sporting Clube de Goa and in 2015, I signed with Mumbai City FC before a loan stint with Mohun Bagan later that season.
I joined FC Goa via the ISL Draft in 2017 and I have never had to look back at anything ever again.
Q: What about your team’s prospects in ISL in the days ahead?
A: Well, I believe that we have one of the strongest squads in the ISL. Our start wasn’t the best but we are certainly getting back to our best. We have been amongst the sides in the country the past 5 odd seasons and with the core of the team remaining the same as last time around, I believe we will continue to grow stronger.
Q: FC Goa is the current Durand Cup Champion.Prestigious tournament like Durand encourages young players to a great extent, do you agree?
A: It’s really a great opportunity, especially when you have it as a pre-season tournament. It allows the coaches to experiment and the youngsters to really flex their muscle with the opportunity presented to them. It also serves as another source for matches. We have a fairly short football season and anything that helps in getting more matches is much welcome.
Q: How was your experience in the last season with FC Goa?
A: It was bitter sweet in the ISL. We went on a league-record 15 game unbeaten streak but got knocked out in the semis via penalties. It was a tough one to take.
The AFC Champions League following that has been one of the highlights of my career. We were looking forward to playing the AFC Champions League since the beginning of the season and when it was finally about to take place, it felt kind of surreal.
We knew we would be playing against some really good teams and some of the best players in Asia. We understood that we were representing not only FC Goa, but the hopes and prayers of the entire country. So we were really focussed going into the first game and ready to give our all.
Q: You struggled a lot with injuries in the last season. How difficult was it?
A: Every injury is a setback. No one wants to go through an injury. It can be frustrating. All I can do in those moments is to think of coming back stronger than before.
Q: How is your experience working with Juan Ferrando?
A: Juan, arguably, is the best coach I have worked with in terms of the tactical side. He is a real teacher who likes to teach football and then looked to us to put all that into practice during games. He tried to share his ideas for us to improve as a team. We had been a solid unit under him.
Q: Say something about your experience of playing in the AFC Champions League?
A: To put it in one word, I might say ‘fantastic’. It was even better than I had imagined. The games were tough. We were playing against some of the best sides in Asia and that really made us push ourselves even harder – both personally and as a team.
It was enjoyable because we went into every game wanting to win and we were no pushovers. And it just showed us that if we play as a team, we can really be better than what a lot of people expect us to be.
Q: How do you feel about Edu Bedia’s goal – the first by an Indian club in the AFC Champions League?
A: It was a historic moment and I’m glad to have played a part in it. Well I looked towards Edu (Bedia) and he was pointing towards a space that he would like to attack.
I knew that Edu was capable of making some really good runs from this kind of situations. I anticipated the run and looked to put enough pace on the ball for him to flick it on and that’s exactly what happened. That was a brilliant moment.
Q: You have now set the benchmark for other Indian clubs in Asia. Do you think Indian clubs need to perform much better on the continent?
A: It doesn’t matter whether it’s other clubs or the national team, we have to look to give our best and be the best version of ourselves when it comes to international competitions.
Q: In the World Cup qualifying campaign, over the course of two years, what improvements have you noticed in the team?
A: There were lots of positivities. We have started playing more with the ball and are looking to be more expressive in possession. Of course, getting that on spot will take time. However, I am hopeful things will get better in the days to come.
Q: Are you satisfied with the way the World Cup Qualifiers have been planned? Do you think the team could have done better?
A: There were games we should have done a lot better in. I truly believe that. That is because we set the benchmark high for ourselves. However, there are a lot of positives to take. Our team has definitely raised the bar in comparison to previous years.
As I said before, we are playing a lot more with the ball and can see a lot of reasons for positivity. I firmly believe that in the coming years we will surely do a lot better.
Q: How about your experience of working with national team coach Igor Stimac?
A: I like playing under him. He trusts in me. The mindset in the national team is to improve and get better in every session. He has been giving us good support. He tries to guide and motivate us all on and off the field.
Q: What is the difference between Juan Fernando and Igor Stimac?
A: I don’t like to compare coaches. Everyone has their own style and their own way of doing things – both on and off the pitch.
A: Well, a number of them have impressed me. If I have to take names, I would say Suresh (Singh Wangjam) and Liston (Colaco).
Q: Who according to you can be the next debutant for the national team from FC Goa?
A: We actually have a number of brilliant players coming through. I, myself, am excited to see how far they will go and keen to see them make it to the Indian team. Devendra (Murgaokar) is making good strides. So are our two left backs – Sanon (Pereira) and (Saviour) Gama. (Muhammad) Nemil has looked really good in the limited time that he has been with us. Hope to see one of them in the Indian national team one day.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: I think I still have a number of years of football in me, so I haven’t really started thinking too much ahead. At the moment all that is on my mind is to recover from my current injury and get back into the thick of things.
Q: Any passion that you have besides football?
A: Not really. As a child, football was my only love and it has been everything I ever wanted.
(Interviewed by Pratyusha Mukherjee, a Broadcast Journalist of BBC based in Kolkata)
(This interview was first published in The Eastern Link https://theeasternlink.com/a-candid-talk-with-indias-star-midfielder-brandon-fernandes/ )