After trials at three English clubs and a three-year stint at a top academy in South Africa, Brandon Fernandes is finally back home and is playing a major role in Sporting Clube de Goa’s recent revival. However, amidst all the stories about his recent success, the 20 year-old has one regret – not making it to a Premier League club.
In 2013, the Goa lad had trials in Reading, Leicester City and Sunderland and according to him, he went pretty close to earning a deal. Or at least, it seemed like he did.
“I think I had a very good trial at Sunderland. The head coach of the U-23 side sounded positive after it and also asked me a few questions. However, there was a change in management and everything changed,” he said pensively while recollecting the heartbreak in a chat with Goal.
“Paolo Di Canio was sacked and there was a change in the youth set-up also,” he added.
In Leicester City, the scenario looked even more promising at one point but the club's interest waned.
“I trained with both the junior and senior teams. It was a two-week trial and they suddenly extended it for another week. Then they had a meeting and I don’t know what they talked about there. They informed me that I am not being offered a contract."
“For me, going to England directly was a very difficult thing. If I could have gone to some other parts of Europe, leaving the top five leagues, it would have been much easier to gain exposure. It was not my mistake also. If you get offers for trials at those clubs, you will have a go. The deals didn’t happen but I think everything in the world happens for a reason,” he said optimistically.
The Margao boy had joined Fransa at a very early age and went on to play for a number of age-group sides before going in search of greener pastures.
“I was playing for Fransa when the club closed down. I had been there for six years, starting at an early age of seven. Then I was playing for my school when Salgaocar came up with a youth development program. I had represented them in all age-groups: U-14, U-16, U-18,” he informed.
Then came the big break in Brandon’s career. ASD Cape Town, a top academy in South Africa offered him a deal after his performance for the India U-16 side.
“I represented India U-16 back then. They were somehow interested in me and called me up. They wanted me to have a trial and then offered an academy contract. I joined the academy and the level of football was better there. The coaches there were very helpful and gave me the confidence to do things with the ball. I was in the U-17 team and we trained together with the U-19 guys,” he told.
In Cape Town, Brandon trained with players like Ethen Sampson and Ayanda Patosi who have been in the news in different parts of the world this season. While Ethen made his debut in the MLS for Vancouver Whitecaps last September, Patosi was named in the South Africa’s provisional 25-man squad ahead of the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
“Ayanda was a senior. We had trained together for a year but he left when I was promoted to the U-19 side,” the Goa boy recalled memories of the left winger who has been part of Lokeren’s Belgium Cup winning squad twice in the last four years. “However, I have played with Ethen many times. We were in the same age-group,” he added.
In his debut for the India U-19 at the tender age of 16, Fernandes had scored the opening goal in India’s 3-1 win against Turkmenistan in the 2012 AFC U-19 Championship qualifiers. Later, the core of the team including the likes of Brandon, Pronay Halder, Narayan Das et al. were offered a contract by the AIFF to be a part of their team, Pailan Arrows. However, Brandon decided to continue his spell in South Africa.
The midfielder came into the limelight when he played a pivotal part in Goa-India’s win in the 2014 Lusofonia Games where he scored thrice to secure the honour for his home state. However, he had a quiet period after that owing to a couple of injuries.
“I had an injury to my hip and I used to get pain while running. It was not that serious and I just had to work on it. This was after the Lusofonia Games. After I became fit, I joined Sporting (Clube de Goa) but I was unaware about the International Transfer Certificate (ITC). I thought I could play for them right after joining but it was September and the transfer window was closed," he explained.
“Then in December, we played a friendly match against Churchill Brothers and I pulled my hamstring. The clearance meanwhile came in January. I made my comeback against Mumbai FC on 8th February and played 22 minutes but couldn't continue because of the pain. Then I came back home and had to be out for another couple of months,” he said.
The midfielder, who has been one of the major factors in the sudden spike in Sporting’s performances, can also play in a number of positions across the pitch.
“After starting as a striker, I was handed a withdrawn role by my school team coach Cajetan Fernandes. However, while playing for India U-16, I was deployed on the wings by Colm Toal. Then I went to Cape Town and the coach once told me to play as the no 10. I had a very good game that day and have been playing there since. I have played in all the midfield positions for Sporting and it’s not an issue,” the youngster remarked about his first campaign in professional football.
The young prodigy is very enthusiastic about playing in the Indian Super League (ISL), once the I-League gets over.
“I want to play in the ISL but I have not signed for the drafts yet. I will see. I haven’t taken any decision as yet. ISL will be a big learning step for me. I have a lot of things in my mind, so I think it’s better to take one step at a time. I will decide only after 31st May, when the league is over," he revealed.
“I am just 20 and want to play till I am 35-36. I have a long way to go. For example, if I play for FC Goa, I will be coached by the legend Zico. That will be amazing,” he signed off on an optimistic note with the hope that his professional career will scale greater heights in the coming months.