When Deggie Cardoza’s coach put him on the field as a substitute for the last 10 minutes of a football match, the then-teenager was not happy. 10 minutes was never enough time. He wanted more time on the pitch, more time on the ball. And that’s when it all started.
“I started playing football for a village team coming as a substitute. As a teenager getting 10 mins time was not enough though, but it was the beginning of a long journey,” says Deggie, who now works with the ATK Reserves team which competes in the I-League 2nd Division as the head coach, in an exclusive interaction with The Bridge.
The 32-year-old remembers his stint as a footballer vividly and coyly admits that even though he had the passion, he did not have that much talent.
“Even though I was passionate about football, I couldn't play much. Then, I thought of going into full-time coaching,” recalls Deggie. “I was just 24 years old when I completed my AFC C-Licence coaching degree.”
Brought up in a quaint little house on the Calangute beach in the football-crazy state of Goa, Deggie was interested in all major sports. But football was his first and last love. Such is his love for the game, even his marriage invitation card was designed like a ticket for a football match.
“I used to play hockey and other sports as a child. But my parents were very passionate about football and always wished that I would become a footballer. I couldn't fulfil their dream due to injury but I fell into a never-ending love with football that is carrying on (smiles).”
When Deggie signed up for the AFC A-Licence coaching degree, he found out he was the youngest Indian in the batch. Not just that, at 28, he became the youngest Indian to finish the A-Licence. One rarely sees someone taking up coaching actively at such an early age, especially in India. The general consensus is that you need to first garner enough experience working closely with footballers before you can go into full-time coaching. But for Deggie, it was different.
“When I finished A licence in 2015, I was the youngest in the batch. Being so young as a coach helped me to work with different kinds of players in various age groups. These continued experience of coaching from a young age has worked as a catalyst for me… to grow up as a coach. I am now habituated with different kinds of players and situations. I believe this experience will definitely help me in the coming days to face every kind of test as a coach,” he says.
The first major opportunity Deggie got was to coach the Goa state sub-junior team girls team and then, the same year, he was drafted into the boy's team as well. He would go on to coach a team in the Goa Professional League. “We gained promotion in consecutive seasons. I was doing good, and subsequently I got an offer from DSK Shivajians,” the Goan coach relays his coaching journey.
“I was the assistant of Joseph Sidy who guided me the first five years to improve my skills and knowledge about coaching. I also got the chance to assist Derrick Pereira for the DSK first team which plied its trade in the I-League. I was also associated with the Liverpool Football Academy in Pune.”
‘Developing a player and seeing him succeed is a huge reward for me’
What would you love most about your job? There are many ways a coach could answer this.
“You get to stay close to the sport you love.” “You gain a second family.” “Your success becomes others' success.”
But for Deggie it’s different. “The best part? I love to work with young Indian players, always have, since day one,” he replies.
“I feel it's my responsibility as a coach to provide new fresh talents to the clubs and my country. I love challenges. And making them a top professional is a great challenge also an excitement. It's also my duty not to make them just a good footballer but also make them a better human being.”
But isn’t training younger ones — who won’t listen and be unruly, who will try to bend the rules at every given opportunity — much more difficult?
“It's totally a different task to coach young players,” says Deggie. “They are young, not much experienced and their minds are not fully matured. So, I have to get down to their age to make them understand what I want from them. It's also a challenge to guide them off the pitch because they are not old enough to handle everything. I gladly take these challenges as it gives great satisfaction to work with them.”
“I think they will say that I have always emphasised on discipline. And I like to believe they learn at least something from me on and off the pitch.”
“It’s a job that gives back a lot, you know. I have coached many players who have later gone on to play for the Indian national team, players who have featured in the national colours at the U17 FIFA World Cup. Boris Singh, Komal Thatal, Prabir Das, Salam Ranjan, Ricky Lallawmawma are few of those names. Back in DSK, there were Sandesh Jhingan, Subrata Paul, Amiri, Milan Singh, Md. Rafi, Sena Ralte and so many others who would go on to play for big clubs in Indian.
“Developing a player from his youth to the professional level and see him doing well for big teams, that is the biggest reward for me.”
As a coach, Deggie has seen many highs and lows, but since joining Indian Super League (ISL) side ATK FC as the head coach of the reserve team, his life has had a complete turn. From going toe-to-toe Indian football giants Mohun Bagan in the Durand Cup, to gaining promotion to Calcutta Football League Premier Division B, Deggie has proved his worth. And given that he is still very young in terms of coaching years, there is no doubt that he will only grow as a coach.
Maybe, someday we will see an Indian coach taking charge of an ISL club and then go on to lead the national team. That, if anyone asks, is a massive prospect for football in the country.