Change is never easy, surely not when you are 27. Mandar Rao Desai probably didn’t have a choice when FC Goa coach Sergio Lobera told him to play as a left-back last season. Since then, Mandar has excelled in that ‘new’ position and even made it to the national team. He spoke to ISL Media about his new role.
Did you fancy yourself playing as a left-back when you have excelled as a left-winger?
During the preseason in Spain last year, coach (Sergio) Lobera told me that I could do well in this position. He asked me if I would be comfortable, before fielding me in the first game in Spain. As the season progressed, I tried my best to learn the art of defending, given that this was not the position I played in the previous seasons. Coach told me that if I keep doing well in the position, I could play as a left back in the national team too.
And true enough you made it to the national team as a left-back!
I was excited to make my debut (against Qatar). Facing the Asian champions was a tough task. We tried to do our best and keep a good rhythm. Between the defenders and midfielders, we kept it compact and therefore got a good result against them.
How difficult was it for you to adapt to the change, considering you are 27 now?
It is up to the player. For me, it was a new challenge to play at left back. I had to change my whole game, I watched a lot of videos online to improve.
FC Goa co-owner Virat Kohli spoke highly of the fitness levels that footballers have. How inspiring is it to have a co-owner who is a sportsman himself?
He provides a lot of motivation when he talks to the players. He believes in the players and the club. FC Goa has always performed well in the ISL. It is not easy for a club to always be in the top four, but Goa has been consistent. Virat is right when he says that the fitness of a footballer is much higher than a cricketer because there is a lot of running involved. Virat is a very fit individual himself, and understands what goes through in reaching those peak levels of fitness.
You were a youngster when you signed for FC Goa and now a captain. How has your role evolved at the club?
I have learned a lot from the seniors, not only in FC Goa but also when I was at Dempo Sports Club. I grateful to be coached by one of the legends of the global game, Zico. One also learns when you play in front of a huge crowd backing you and when you experience being in the national team. Former FC Goa players Robert Pires and Lucio were instrumental in developing my game and I hope to do the same for the upcoming youngsters at the club.