The bygone Indian Super League (ISL) 2017-18 season was a painful one for Delhi Dynamos for evident reasons. It was an even more painful one for their first choice goalkeeper Albino Gomes.
Having arrived at the national capital based club on the back of an impressive season in Aizawl FC’s fairytale triumph in the I-League last year, it all started according to plan for Gomes as the club secured an away victory over FC Pune City in its opening ISL fixture.
Two defeats in row followed before disaster struck for the Goa-born custodian. Starting in his fourth match in a row, Gomes went down clutching his knee after landing awkwardly on his left leg during the second-half against Jamshedpur FC. The 24-year-old would be stretchered off the field, playing no further part in Dynamos’ campaign in the ISL.
In an interview with Goal, Gomes revealed the angst he underwent in the wake of his first major career injury.
“Yes, this was the first time where I have had to miss the entire season. It felt awful when I walked off from that field in a stretcher against Jamshedpur. I had a feeling that I have a bad injury but didn’t know that I will have to miss so much time. For any player to watch from the sidelines is frustrating knowing that you are helpless and can’t help the team anymore,” the former Salgaocar FC custodian said.
“I did show up in trainings to motivate the squad because I felt it was important to be around the team as much as I can because being alone doesn’t help you mentally. I spoke to the other goalkeepers in the team, joked around with them so that I don’t think about this injury that much. Irureta (Xabier) the new goalkeeper was really nice. He is so experienced and has played in the top leagues. So I watched him play and picked up things from him as well,” he added.
While fate wasn’t kind to the still fairly young custodian this year, he was gathering all the plaudits with Aizawl last year as he kept eight clean-sheets in the Mizoram club’s march to the I-League title. His stellar performances there convinced Delhi Dynamos to make him their first pick in the ISL Players Draft ahead of the 2017-18 season. Injuries might have played spoilsport in Gomes’ attempts to repay that faith but he is more than eager to make up for it in the coming season.
“It felt great and there was a sense of responsibility. Delhi did not retain anyone from last year. They picked me as their first player for the new season and so I felt really good. Obviously I am upset that injuries hampered all my plans for the season but I have a long-term contract with the club and I will get my shot at redemption next season. I am confident that I can show the club and the entire league as well what they were missing this season,” Gomes said confidently.
With many ISL clubs opting to put an Indian goalkeeper between the sticks in a bid to put the maximum foreign players in the outfield, the season saw plenty of domestic representation in that department. It also saw a fair amount of blunders from the Indian custodians over the course of four months, with Gomes himself being guilty of one in the defeat against NorthEast United FC in December.
“Players make mistakes and we all learn from that. Most of us goalkeepers are young and still have a good 10 years ahead of us. So, these mistakes will gradually get less,” Gomes explained.
Though he believes that there is no difference between the ISL and the I-League, the Dynamos goalkeeper is of the opinion that the former’s extensive coverage does cause wider lens to be focussed on individual errors.
“I won’t say that in ISL these mistakes are highlighted more because both the leagues are equal but with the coverage that the ISL gets, I feel that the viewership is lot more and so people tend to focus mostly on this league only,” Gomes remarked.
While he has been called up to the training camps of the Indian national team previously by head coach Stephen Constantine, the Goan is yet to earn a senior cap. With Gurpreet Singh Sandhu established as the indisputable No1 for now and the likes of Amrinder Singh and Vishal Kaith all waiting in the wings, the competition in the goalkeeping department is fierce. And with the prestigious AFC Asian Cup on the anvil in 2019, the injury setback for Gomes could not have come at a worse time.
“Injuries are always frustrating. I wanted to get a lot of game time this season because the Asian Cup is just around the corner but what has happened, has happened and I want to move on from this and come back stronger. I don’t know what the selection will be like by the coach for the tournament, but we do have quality goalkeepers in the squad and anyone who gets selected from all of us will do really well,” Gomes said.
Despite the few clangers dropped over the course of the season, Gomes is firm in his view that Indian goalkeepers have improved massively.
“There has been a remarkable improvement in the goalkeeping this season. You look at the top four goalkeepers of the league this season- Gurpreet, Vishal (Kaith), Amrinder, Subrata Paul - all had a remarkable season in goal. Even the young players like Naveen Kumar, who got a chance late on in the season, really took the opportunity and made the spot their own. In our team also Arnab (Das) really got into the stride despite having tough competition from the experienced Irureta. He always performed when the coach called him from the bench and that was a real positive for us that you have two very reliable goalkeepers in the side,” Gomes stated.
“I think this is also great for the National Team because now you have a pool of good goalkeepers to choose from and all of us will be on our toes because we know that there’s someone who is behind waiting to grab even the slightest opportunity that will come. You look at the transfer market now as well and you will see how goalkeepers are really the hot property as a lot of teams are in need of quality Indian goalkeepers,” he added.
Having been forced to watch from the sidelines as his national team competitors performed in goal for their respective teams, Gomes picked FC Pune City’s Kaith as his choice for the best Indian custodian in the ISL 2017-18 season.
“I think Vishal Kaith of FC Pune City really impressed not just me but all of us. He is young but showed great maturity this season. He made fine saves and was arguably Pune’s best player this season. He has a long way to go and you can see that even the coach Constantine likes him a lot,” Gomes opined.
When asked what went wrong for the Dynamos in the ISL as they finished a lowly eighth, Gomes replied, “I think it was a mix of lot of factors. Any coach will suffer when the first choice goalkeeper gets injured and that was followed by suspensions to key players in the midfield which sort of left us weak when going forward.”
“I think the team did really well in 2018 where we suffered just two defeats and there also we had the lead for most part of the game. (Manuel) Arana and Irureta provided great quality in the side and their presence motivated the side as well a lot.”
With Delhi’s Super Cup campaign ending in defeat in the qualifier’s stage itself at the hands of Churchill Brothers, the season is well and truly over for Miguel Angel Portugal’s men. But for Gomes, the 2018-19 pre-season is already on his mind as he seeks to get back to full fitness.
“I am doing well now and the rehab is going great as well. The physios and the doctors have helped me a lot ever since the injury and I am confident that by the time the pre-season comes I will be 100 per cent ready and will look to feature in the pre-season as much as I can because it is very important to get some game time ahead of the season."