This has been a breakthrough season for Brandon Fernandes. The 25-year-old midfielder is enjoying arguably his best ISL campaign, while also cementing his place in the Indian team. Fernandes is the sort of creative, technically-gifted, passing midfielder the national side has long craved; over the last few months, he has steadily emerged as one of the country's finest.

Ten games into this ISL season, Fernandes leads the assists charts (5); he has now provided more assists than any other Indian player in the history of the league (13) which, considering he's only featured in 45 matches, is saying a lot. In India's 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, all three of the team's goals have been assisted by Fernandes, his set-piece delivery a real asset.

"I love to provide assists," Fernandes tells Sportstar . "I've got better and better every season. I also want to score goals but we (FC Goa) have goal-scorers so I have to provide good passes for them to score. I just focus on putting the ball in the right place."

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For all the rewards this season has brought Fernandes, 2019 will remain a year tinged with some regret. When Stephen Constantine named the Indian probables for the AFC Asian Cup, the Margao midfielder did not find a place in it. The omission must have been disappointing, but Fernandes does not wish to dwell on it.

"It's not good to speak about that," he says. "I expected a call-up and it didn't happen. But I don't want to say anything about that. That was 2019. And 2020 is a new year."

Constantine quit after the Asian Cup, though, and Igor Stimac was appointed as India's new head coach. The Croat called Fernandes up at once, handing him his first India cap against Curacao in June.

"Igor Stimac told me that he saw my ISL matches and he said I was a very important player for him," says Fernandes. "He told me that if I work hard I'm going to get my place in the team."

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Stimac has deployed Fernandes as a deep-lying play-maker; at FC Goa, he plays mainly as a left-sided attacking midfielder but is also sometimes used as a number 10. "As long as I am playing, I'm happy," he says. "Different coaches see me in different ways. I try to adapt and give them whatever they ask for."

FC Goa's first game of 2020 is against Bengaluru FC, at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here on Friday. Matches between the two sides have always tended to be close and Fernandes expects another tense encounter. He is hopeful, though, of beginning the new year just like he ended the old one. “It has been a very good season for me so far,” he says. “There were a lot of ups and downs but I kept going. I will continue doing that.”