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From Santosh Trophy finals failure to ISL winner's medal - The incredible rise of Francis Fernandes

11:33 PM EDT 3/30/18
Francisco Fernandes Chennaiyin FC Bengaluru FC ISL 4 2017/2018
The Chennaiyin FC winger has come a long way since the Santosh Trophy finals last year.....

Nearly over a year ago, Francis Fernandes was sitting on the bench as Bengal went on to beat his state team Goa in extra-time to lift the Santosh Trophy title in Goa. 

Francis, once a regular with the Indian national team, was the designated captain for Goa before the start of the inter-state football competition. However, an injury mid-way through the tournament meant the winger was ruled out of the semi-finals clash. Despite declaring his availability for the finals, Goa coach Mateus Costa opted to continue with Peter Carvalho as skipper and left Francis on the bench.

Then 31-years-old, Francis had been a constant in Goa’s Santosh Trophy campaigns over the years. Despite many established big name players choosing to shun the 77-year-old competition in recent years, the Goan winger was one of the few who kept turning up for it time after time.

Just under a year later, Francis was starting in the finals of a different competition – the Indian Super League (ISL). After being one of the mainstays of the team through the course of the league stages, the Goa native’s perseverance was rewarded by John Gregory with a starting role in the final.

This time, there would be no missing out on the trophy either as Chennaiyin FC went on to capture their second ISL title in three years. Starting on the right wing for the eventual champions, Francis went on to show in those 90 minutes why he had played such a huge role in the title-winning campaign.

Throughout the match, the Goan winger was a non-stop engine on the right flank along with Inigo Calderon. Not flashy with mesmerizing dribbling skills, Francis was quietly effective with his pin-point passing, never shirking in his work-rate as he put in an excellent shift both offensively and defensively.

He was eventually substituted to a standing ovation from the Chennaiyin fans in injury-time as Gregory sought to preserve the slender 3-2 lead. Minutes later, Francis had his first ISL winner’s medal after playing a part in every edition of the tournament since its inception in 2014.

In Chennaiyin’s campaign, Francis played in 17 of the side’s 21 games, starting in 15 of them. His output, in terms of numbers, do not do justice to his performances over the season. His solitary goal in the campaign came in a 3-1 loss to the finalists Bengaluru FC.

Being greater than the sum of its parts was one of the characteristics of the Marina Machans’ ISL win and Francis was the epitome of this trait. Harrying the opposition wingers and left-backs constantly, the Chennaiyin man never stopped running. Using all his experiences over the years, the Goan repaid the faith bestowed on him by the franchise who bought him in the ISL Players draft despite him carrying an injury at the time.

It was perhaps a deserved break for Francis, who has been around for a long time in Indian football. Capped 29 times by India, the Goan started his professional football career with Vasco SC before going on to enjoy a highly successful eight-year spell at Salgaocar where he won the I-League and Federation Cup.

Since then, the winger has played for Delhi Dynamos in the opening two ISL editions before moving to FC Pune City for the third. He played only four matches for the Stallions in the 2016-17 season before turning out for Goa in the Santosh Trophy.

He also missed the 2016-17 I-League season. 

With his star on the fade and the injury in the Santosh Trophy, another ISL venture was looking bleak before the start of the 2017-18 season. As luck would have it, Chennaiyin and Gregory gave Francis a second lifeline, and it is one he has grabbed with both hands.

Now gearing up for the maiden Super Cup, you wouldn’t’ put it past Francis Fernandes to get his hands on another trophy.