FC Goa had a really impressive campaign last season. The side finished top of the table in the group stages, thereby qualifying for this season’s AFC Champions League, but ultimately fell short of winning the Indian Super League (ISL) title when they lost in the semi-finals to Chennaiyin FC.
With 2 goals and 7 assists last term, one man who was critical to Goa’s passing game under former head coach Sergio Lobera was Brandon Fernandes. The Indian national team midfielder has become one of the mainstays for both club and country, and has impressed one and all with the offensive thrust that he provides and his ability on the ball. The Bridge interviewed the 26-year-old and tried to understand his development from his own perspective.
“Setting a mind-set that nothing comes easy is important. One should know that it is a competitive platform out there and they need to exhibit hard work, dedication and focus,” he says quite definitively when asked about the sort of mental framework that young players need to cultivate in themselves.
Having played a lot of youth football for India and otherwise, Brandon believes that playing regularly against players who were older and stronger than him has made him the confident footballer that he is now. It is that confidence which is also an important characteristic of the current Indian team players, he feels. “I would say right now we are part of a very exciting process as we work to improve our level and the style of play,” he says of the side’s progress under Igor Stimac.
Not being able to bag a long-term contract in Europe after his stint with ASD Cape Town must have been a huge disappointment, but Brandon hasn’t let that experience affect his belief in himself. Instead, he has assimilated the positive experiences from his time abroad and aims to reach that level someday soon.
“The football there is at a much higher level I'd say in terms of competitiveness. The exposure out there is more significant and given an opportunity I would definitely want to try my luck at a European club,” is how he summarizes his foreign ambitions.
For now though, he is solely focused on winning big with Juan Ferrando’s FC Goa. With the ISL this season being played behind closed doors in Goa, they will definitely have an advantage with their familiarity to the conditions and the team has been hard at work for the past few weeks.
“The preseason is going well. We have just started getting to know each other both on and off the pitch and the boys are bonding well,” he explains with a sense of positive anticipation before going on to add, “Our plan is to play as a team with passing and movement being key to our identity. So, even our training is focused to make us comfortable doing the things we are supposed to do on the pitch.”
So where does he fit into the scheme of things at Goa? “Firstly it’s on the coach what role he wants me to play on the pitch and then secondly, it’s just my mind and feet that make the most of the different opportunities and situations in matches. I will continue to work hard in training, follow the coach’s instructions to the best of my ability and trust my instincts,” says the highest Indian assist-maker from last season.
Finally, we couldn’t help but ask him about THAT free-kick against Oman in September 2019 which announced his arrival in the national team. “It was definitely a great moment for me, in fact for both Chhetri bhai and me, as the strategy worked well for the team and we got the all-important goal,” he says, looking back at the expertly executed free-kick routine that gave India the lead against the Asian heavyweights that night.
Although India ended up losing that match 2-1, the midfielder feels that such experiences are only going to make them a mentally tougher side. “Matches like these test your mettle and your spirit. They also make you realize that there is a lot of hard work yet to be done in order to achieve our objectives and hopefully with time we’ll get there,” he signs off.