Players’ Corner, Episode 2: Carlos Peña And The Art Of Making The Best Of Life

posted in Specials by Carlos Peña on 13th January 2020

posted in Specials

by Carlos Peña

on 13th January 2020

Players’ Corner, Episode 2: Carlos Peña And The Art Of Making The Best Of Life

It was a tough time for me. It always is tough when you are not playing. And especially for me, being away from Spain for the first time, in India – a place I knew very little about, a lot of things creep into your head. Mostly negative. 

But you know, I always knew that I had to keep moving on and make the most of it. It is easy to be humble when you are playing and show the signs of professionalism that everyone craves for. It’s not so easy when you are at the end of the bench. 

Time doesn’t fly by so quickly in those moments. 

I am fortunate that I had my family beside me at that moment. They help bring a lot of normalcy in my life. And that helps me keep my focus on my game, to conquer the doubts. 

A bad stretch of results saw the Coach insert me into the starting XI at the midway point of last season – this time as a centre back. Things started smoothing out after that. Till that night in Mumbai. It was a tough one to take.

The ISL Final last season was a tough pill to take
The ISL Final in 2019 was a tough pill to swallow

On the pitch, we were an emotional mess. I remember Bengaluru lifting the trophy. We just wanted to get into the dressing room and leave for Goa as soon as possible. But it is in those moments that you can show what you are made of. We all waited, we were going graceful even in defeat. We applauded when they lifted the trophy before heading into the tunnel – it felt the darkest one I had ever walked into.

I remember calling my family after the game. They were not able to watch it but were following it closely on social media. My children were crying. In the few months they were here, they had fallen in love with the place, the people and the Club. 

But, my family was there for me. They made me realise at that moment that what we had achieved till then was something great. We needed to be happy about that. As the saying goes, “smile because it happened, don’t frown because it’s over”.

It was time for me/us to move on.

Many years earlier

Carlos Pena - Players Corner- Barcelona
FC Barcelona – Where it all began

It’s easy to say football is everything to me, but there are times that you understand it is not. Your family is. 17 years back, I learnt it the hard way.

In 2002, my mother was diagnosed with cancer.

I was young and coming up the ranks in Barcelona. But football for me at that time took a back seat. The pain was real, but even in that moment my mother and my family remained my greatest source of strength.

She eventually came through, defeating cancer. And in doing so, instilled in me even more belief in my own abilities and helping me make the most of my life.

Carlos Pena - Players Corner- Mommas boy
Always a momma’s boy

2006. There was nothing normal about that summer. Everything leading to it, felt like I was on the brink of something major. As it turned out, my feelings would come true.

I decided that I needed to move on from FC Barcelona. As a boy growing up in the city it was my dream to play for the club – wearing the Red and Blue of the club and playing in front of my people. For my people.

I had come up the ranks. Played for Barcelona C, then Barcelona B and then made it to the first team. Louis van Gaal was in charge and he warmed up to me quickly. I felt he trusted me and I featured in a number of friendlies. But, he was sacked that season and the new manager never really warmed up to me. 

Carlos Pena - Players Corner- Barcelona Days
Barcelona gave me the knowledge and confidence to go ahead in life

That summer, I understood that I might just not be good enough to really crack it with the first team. I was 22. It was a time for me to move on and make the most of the gifts I had. 

I sat down with my agent and looked at a number of options. Albacete looked the best one for me. It was a club that liked to play with young players. We deliberated a bit before agreeing on the move.

It was a logical step for me. But it was tough on my family. They have always been beside me through my ups and downs and now I was going to move 500 km away from my hometown. My parents were worried. Naturally. But it was time to move on and make the most of my situation.

The new me

Family has always been my first priority

The conversations around my house are never about football. I am not a star there. I am a son to my parents, a father to my kids and husband to my wife.

When I decided to take my life away from Barcelona, they were concerned but not for the footballing things. They were worried that they wouldn’t be able to be by my side if I needed them. They wouldn’t be able to come to the games as regularly. 

But some lines were set straight. They wanted me to continue with my education. It was always a strong point of emphasis for them. And they regularly checked up on me for that. 

I spent three seasons there and I would say I grew up a lot there. I met my wife and enrolled myself in an engineering course. I grew exponentially there – not only in terms of my game. It was a prosperous stay. 

Carlos Pena - Players Corner - Valladolid
Rubbing shoulders with the best – I had made it

I would go on to play for Real Valladolid in the years to come – helping them to promotion and then playing in La Liga, rubbing shoulders with the best in the world.

These few years were a dream come true. I think I truly found myself. I understood truly what being a professional was and what limits I could push myself to.

India calling

Carlos Pena - India Calling
Inda – A new adventure

People can say a lot of things about me, but they can never say I didn’t give my all. I was never a 9 out of 10 sort of a player in my life, but I never allowed myself to be 2 out of 10 either. That is how I have always been.

The last season in Spain was a tumultuous one. I had been with Llorca and we were relegated that season. I wanted to make things right there. Stay on and help them get back up. But it was not to be. 

It was time for me to take the next step in my life. 

It was again at an important juncture that Indian football came into my life. I remember the first call I had with the club. I quickly got in touch with Edu (Bedia) and Coro – both of whom had played alongside me. 

It was exciting to think of experiencing something new, and yet at the same time I felt the butterflies fluttering in my tummy. I was afraid whether I would be able to give it my everything here because giving your all means putting your body on the line. 

And at my age, I have to be particularly conscious of all that impacts the body. A bad knock and I would be out and so far away from Spain, it would jeopardize my career.

Any big moment like this brings with it an overwhelming whirlpool of emotions. This was no different. 

I remember sitting down on the kitchen table to talk with my wife about this opportunity. After a long chat we decided, we would go for it. Our children were at the right age where we could take this leap of faith. 

The first season in the league saw us score the most number of goals, record the highest number of clean sheets and finish the league stage joint on top of the points table. The people took to me and family really well. This was an experience I needed to make the most of. 

As a young kid, I had never imagined I would play and be loved in Goa and India

Then the final happened, and it felt like all had come to nought. Being in that moment, you never truly are able to understand the magnitude of it. I was sad for the people who had come all the way to support us in Mumbai. It was a sea of orange. It felt like a home game. 

It was similar to the time we finished runners-up in FIFA U20 World Cup. We were desolate when we lost Brazil in the final, but looking back I can only think of all the good things that had happened. 

We, as a whole needed to make the most of what we had and move on. 

The Super Cup was the perfect opportunity. I remember lifting the cup, seeing the smiling faces in the stands. People had come a long way to see us, support us. It was a priceless moment. 

The first trophy in FC Goa’s history – what a way to sign off your first season

Everyday I go on the pitch, I know I am blessed. 

I try to make the most of my talents. I play for the team. And what a team we have!

I am proud to have Goa as part of my journey. 

I play for you all. 

I love you all.