Jessel Carneiro seems to have struck the right chords in his maiden season in the Indian Super League (ISL) with Kerala Blasters last year. He recorded the most number of appearances (18) at the club and the most number of passes (746) among his team-mates.
Carneiro was hand picked up by Blasters after his performances in the Goa Pro League. More clubs seem to be taking an interest in the competition lately. George D'Souza has joined Odisha FC from Sporting Clube de Goa, while Salgaocar duo Sanson Pereira and Devendra Murgaonkar have been signed by FC Goa.
"It feels good to hear of more players (from the Goa Pro League) making it to the ISL. I obviously feel good to lead the way and more so, because I had a good season and played well (consistently). There are a lot of players like me who struggle for a platform and now that each team can register up to 35 players, I think that will also help (Indian talent)," he mentioned to Goal .
With more assists (5) than any member of the Tuskers and 22 interceptions (joint highest with Moustapha Gning), Carneiro added, "I am happy with my performance because I feel that if I proved myself."
But Carneiro's move came at the age of 28.
"The main thing about my rise is that I didn't give up my dream even after undergoing surgeries on both my legs (ACL)," said the former Dempo SC player, now 29.
"As a junior, I trained under my father (Rocky) and played for teams like Raia, Curtorim Gymkhana, Churchill Brothers, Salgaocar and MPT before joining Dempo senior team. When I was at Pune FC, I played a practice match against Delhi Dynamos (now Odisha FC) when (Gustavo Marmentini) dos Santos was in their team. He was a pacy winger and he asked me after the game what am I doing here but I knew that my time will come," he recalled.
"I played with Ishfaq (Ahmed) when I was at Pune and when Ishfaq was [the assistant coach] at Jamshedpur, I was playing at FC Bardez. That's when he requested for my videos but I did not get any deal. When I was with the Goa Santosh Trophy team, Ishfaq finalised my contract (to play for Kerala Blasters). I told him (Ishfaq) that there is no need to even tell me about the money (remuneration).
"I was sleepless until the club signed the contract. I was desperate to play and I knew that once I get my opportunity it will be my job to perform."
And having extended for another three years till 2023, he continued, "I had many offers but I chose to extend with Kerala because this is where I got my platform. There were also a number of left-backs like Nishu Kumar (now at Kerala Blasters) and Mandar Rao Dessai (now at Mumbai City) whose contracts were running out. So I made the best of my offer."
Carneiro wants to see more names make it to the bigger stage in India's top tier competition and expects new coach Kibu Vicuna continue with an attacking style of play at the club.
"I recommended [former Dempo team-mate] Kirtikesh Gadekar for trials at the club (when Eelco Schattorie was in charge). I also recommended Ronaldo (Oliveira) from East Bengal. Now let's see what happens under coach Kibu. Once the coach sees you at the training, he will guage your ability and assign you a role," he admitted.
From an unpicked player from the 2015 ISL domestic players' draft to an unfulfiled dream of representing the Indian national team, Carneiro remains ever hopeful.
"Now that I have shone in the ISL, many people question me where I was before. So this goes to show that, wherever you are, you should never give up your dream. Going to the national team also depends on the coach (Igor Stimac) based on the (national) team's requirements," he concluded.