A few months away from completing 23 years, Shilton D’Silva has seen both the bright highways and the dark tunnels of a professional footballer’s life.
The Mumbai lad was in class five when he was selected to play for Maharashtra U-14 side after being spotted while representing St. Pius School. He had never looked back from then and went on to don the national colours for the U-16, U-19 and U-23 sides.
He impressed one and all with his footwork and earned his debut for India senior national team at a tender age of 18. He played three matches in five days for the Blue Tigers in 2012 AFC Challenge Cup qualifiers, including a start against Turkmenistan.
Just when everything seemed to be falling in place for the young player, two career threatening injuries halted the journey midway. And that too, for four long years.
On 20th September 2011, the young Pailan Arrows captain suffered a tear in the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) while playing against Mumbai FC in the Federation Cup. That would bring the curtain down on his season, in only the second match of the campaign.
The surgery was perfect and the young professional was planning to make a comeback for the AIFF side next year. The Arrows were playing a few practice matches to involve the players who were coming back from injuries. As fate would have it, in such a friendly against Mohammedan Sporting in November 2012, a challenge from Phoolchand Hembram broke the tibia and the fibula of the youngster, which also horrified the few witnesses present at the venue.
“It was not a rash challenge. It was a freak injury. The injury in my knee was also similar. You can see those tackles in every match,” Shilton recalled, hinting that it was more luck than the desperation of the opponents which caused the injuries.
The midfielder was on the cusp of a comeback in the top tier league of the nation when the second injury happened. Another surgery followed and the season ended just before it would have started to take shape.
“Football took the backseat and I concentrated on studying. I completed my graduation the next summer,” explained the player, who had garnered more than 75% marks in both secondary and higher secondary examinations.
It was Colm Toal who suggested that the youngster should have his rehabilitation in the AIFF academy in Goa. After taking the tests in college, he packed his bags and shifted to Goa.
“The rehab went perfectly. I will remain indebted for life to the physiotherapists who helped me there. AIFF took care of all my expenses and Colm has also always been a pillar of support,” he said about the person who had selected him for the India U-16 side.
In 2013-14 the player didn’t have any club eager to sign him while before the start of this season, reigning I-League champions Bengaluru FC included him in the rosters. Surplus to the requirements, he was loaned to Mumbai FC at the end of March this year.
“I am thankful to both the clubs. Bengaluru’s infrastructure had a major role in regaining my match fitness and Khalid Jamil, in particular has shown much faith in me,” told the player who now has a number of offers to choose from.
After the 47 month absence from I-League, D’Silva finally made his first start against Mohun Bagan, in the most recent of matches for the Mumbaikars. Quite coincidentally, Shilton’s last appearance in the competition before the hiatus also came against the Mariners, when he scored in a memorable 5-4 win for the colts in a match which is more remembered for Jeje Lalpekhlua’s four goals.
“Yeah, my last match was also against Bagan,” he brought back the old memories. “I want to start afresh now. Both my injuries have healed completely. I hope to start from where I had left and develop further,” he signed off.