posted in Specials
by Romario Jesuraj
on 15th May 2020
Players’ Corner, Episode 7: A year wiser
That pain there was real and was all over my body. Have you ever felt as if a sinkhole had opened in your stomach? That everything was falling away? That you were losing a loved one.
Well, I was losing not just a loved one but everything I had known growing up.
Dindigul, in Tamil Nadu, is my home. Its fields are where I grew up kicking the ball. Its streets are what made me. And then came the day when I was told that I would have to leave it all. My parents, my sisters, my friends and everything I knew and had grown to love.
I remember being in that room when the decision was being taken. These were people who meant everything to me. Each of them special – in their very own way.
But, football was at stake, though. And there was no turning back.
It takes a lot of discipline, a lot of sacrifices to become a professional football player in India. The infrastructure is not always great and the road, at most, is blurry at best.
I was in Class 8 when I had to make a choice; when my family had to make a choice. I remember the day it all came down to. There was a large gathering at my house and my fate was decided.
There was a lot of talk, a lot of anxious faces, but most things from that night remain a blur. I was the only boy in the family and my parents were really not in favour of sending me to Chennai. But my uncle saw potential in me, he believed that I could make it to the top and he was relentless.
The two things I do remember about that night was the nod of my head when I was asked whether I would like to continue to play football and then dinner. That dinner was one of the quietest ones in my house ever.
In the years to follow, that decision would be vindicated. Winning the I-League with Chennai City was something incredible. It was a show of how good footballers from Tamil Nadu were. I suddenly became someone that everyone in the streets of Dindigul recognised. That’s a nice feeling, you know.
Everything was good and then suddenly it happened.
My agent called whilst I was having lunch at my house and told me FC Goa was looking to sign me. The human psyche is a mysterious thing. You will, some way or the other, think about how everything can go wrong, but to make it realise that something great is going to happen – you have to put in some real work over there.
And here I was, living the ‘life’, as far as I knew. I used to follow FC Goa ardently when I was not playing my games. They played the passing game to perfection. It was really something I admired. And at Chennai City, I had grown comfortable with playing that brand of football and to be honest, I loved playing that way.
I won’t lie. I wasn’t really pleased when I was sent out on loan, but life had taught me that you have to make the best of the situations that it presented to you. And with experienced wingers in the team, I knew my playing chances in the first season would have remained limited.
This was my opportunity to get better.
In came Mohun Bagan. East Bengal was also interested and courted me, but after a 45-minute conversation with my friends, including Soosairaj (who I know from the college days and then Chennai City) and Edwin Sydney (another of my Chennai City teammate), I was convinced that Mohun Bagan was the club I wanted to play for.
Wiser, better, stronger
You never know which moments in your life will remain etched forever. And in both good times and bad, those keep flooding back to you.
The last year or so gave me a number of moments to relive them.
Playing in the ISL has always been my dream and to do fulfil that in FC Goa colours was the icing on the cake. But I knew, I couldn’t take my foot off the pedal. Just like me, somebody was gunning for the spot I was in.
I was putting everything I could into training in Kolkata. The fans there are magnificent and if you give your all in any game, people don’t forget that. And I have always been ‘all heart’.
And then I felt it.
It wasn’t so painful, to begin with, but it just kept on growing and to a point where I really couldn’t do anything without pain. It was in my Achilles, but it was my heart that felt true pain.
Out for more than a month, I saw my team run riot in the I-League. It was not always easy to take. I remember, a week ahead of the Kolkata Derby, I wanted to return so badly that I tried on my boots.
It was one of the most painful experiences, I have ever had. I was in tears. It felt like a whole year was washing away before my eyes. With me not doing what you are supposed to, a lot of unnecessary thoughts crept into my mind. When you are away from your family and in a place where you struggle to speak the common tongue, it takes even more strength to get past those moments of doubt and anguish.
Those were challenging times and I will always remember the people who stood by me. My parents and uncle were again there by my side. Even people from FC Goa regularly checked on me to see if I was okay.
In the dressing room in Kolkata, my biggest pillar of support was Fran Gonzalez. He was the de facto leader of the team and was the shoulder to lean on. He constantly reminded me, “your time will come”.
It’s vital to have a good relationship with the coach and luckily, I was under one man who understood his players. Kibu Vicuna was extremely pleasant and patient with me throughout the season. He had faith in me and I started the initial games under him to start the I-League season.
And then when I was injured, he would always let me know that I didn’t need to rush back. He trusted me and that helped me be at my best whenever I was on the pitch.
The past season didn’t offer me a lot of playing time but offered me a new perspective. I started learning more about myself. I started thinking more about the things I do on the football field and how to do them better. I learnt the importance of having a leader in the dressing room and have patience with yourself.
Like many things in my life, everything didn’t quite fall into place immediately – like that time when I first got into MCC school in Chennai.
However, just like that period, I became wiser by the experience. I became a better player in the time that I was on the pitch, a smarter one when I got time to introspect because of my injuries.
A big plus for me was to keep the winning habit alive. Those are the bits in your life you need to have to look at the brighter side and keep your spirits up. A second I-League title in as many years was beyond my wildest dreams. But those dreams are not done yet.
There were no Ls last season except for lessons. There are some big milestones I am yet to reach and I can’t wait to show what I have in front of the FC Goa faithful.
Others might say ‘I want to’. For me, ‘I have to’.