Steven Dias waiting for a second chance

An interview with the Mumbai lad ahead of Mumbai City FC's clash against Delhi Dynamos. Dias was part of the Delhi side in ISL Season I.

"We read reports in the papers that Bharat FC are not interested in continuing. I feel action should be taken against clubs pulling out after the first year," Former India international Steven Dias says.   -  S. Subramanium

For every Indian footballer playing in the Indian Super League to gain instant fame and fortune, there is a player who has slipped through the cracks in our football structure and staring at an uncertain future. Steven Dias is among the 72 unsold players at the auction for the 2015 ISL. From a list of 112 players, 40 were picked up by the eight franchises.

In the last season, Dias was curling in crosses from the right flank for strikers such as Alessandro del Piero (Italy) and Gustavo dos Santos (Brazil). Steven was part of the domestic draft pick for Delhi Dynamos FC and got his share of action. A year later, he is watching the ISL from far, as he went unsold at the domestic auction. To make matters worse for the midfielder, the I-League club, Bharat FC, with whom he had signed a four-month contract, is closing down.

In the absence of a contract with either an ISL team or an I-League outfit, Steven is keeping himself occupied by playing five-a-side tournaments in Mumbai and training on his own. “Match fitness is the most vital for a professional footballer. I don’t get competitive football nor do I have any club to train with, so playing these local events is what I can do till another I-League contract comes up,” he says.

Delhi Dynamos, under their new coach Roberto Carlos, did not bid for him; nor did the other seven franchises. “Four franchises were interested in me, but no one bid for me at the auction. Based on my performances for Delhi, I expected to continue. Our best match last year was against Chennaiyin FC. Afterwards I remember manager Marco Materazzi coming over to our dugout to meet the coach, and he congratulated me on my game,” says Steven.

“After that display, I thought Chennaiyin will be interested. FC Goa had said they would contact me directly; then I was told they will pick me through the auction,” he adds.

The change in Dynamos’ coach, from Harm van Veldhoven to Roberto Carlos, may have forced the rethink. “I don’t think Carlos had any idea about Indian players at that time. The support staff has to be consulted. I wish them the best and feel the squad is balanced this time,” Steven says.

Bharat FC, a new corporate team formed in Pune, were given a direct entry into the I-League last season by the federation, who assured that the relegation rule would not apply to the corporate sides for three seasons. “I signed a four-month contract and got paid what was promised. No one from the club management got in touch with me or other team-mates after they ended their I-League plans for the second season. We read reports in the papers that Bharat FC are not interested in continuing. I feel action should be taken against clubs pulling out after the first year,” Steven says.

In the absence of a regular job — linked to football or otherwise — Steven depends on his property for income. “With the money earned playing for Churchill Brothers, I bought a flat in Mumbai, which I have now rented out,” he says.

Steven played for two of India’s famous clubs — Mumbai’s Mahindra United (with whom he won the National Football League title in 2006-07) and Goa’s Churchill Brothers (with whom he won the I-League title in 2012-13). He donned the India colours from 2004 onwards under different coaches —Indian and foreign — and has made 51 international appearances.

Steven is paying the price for taking up football as a full-time career. He was on contract from season to season, starting with Air-India, Mahindras, Churchill Brothers, Rangdajied United FC in Meghalaya and the I-League debutants Bharat FC.

With no ISL or I-League contracts binding him this season, Steven is free to take part in tournaments around Mumbai.

Long before teaming up with del Piero in the ISL, the Mumbai player caught the eye by setting up goals for his Mahindra United team-mate Jose Barreto of Brazil. An integral part of Churchill Brothers’ crack team in 2012-13, Steven linked up with Sunil Chhetri, Brazilian playmaker Beto and captain Dharmaraj Ravanan to win the I-League title under Subhas Bhowmick. Ravanan is playing for FC Pune City in the ISL this season, while Chhetri is the prized asset of Mumbai City FC.

Recalling his debut season with Delhi Dynamos in the ISL, Steven says it was special. “We were told that del Piero would be joining the squad as the marquee player. The Indians did not know how to react with a World Cup winner from Italy and a star from Serie A set to play in the ISL. He was like any club team-mate; he made us feel very comfortable. He took me aside for individual advice about how to use the ball effectively without using power. Del Piero was talking football techniques, for me those sessions were amazing.”

He adds: “The big difference between foreigners and us is that their basics are strong. I mean the first touch, passing, receiving. As del Piero and other foreign players in Delhi pointed out, these are basic techniques taught to them as kids. Our grassroots and academies should be the place for juniors to learn the basics. The ISL is exposing us to high skills.”

Steven is okay with the pressure on players and coaches to deliver results in the ISL. “I learnt a lot in three seasons with Churchill about expectations. The owner came to the dressing room at half-time and talked to us about victory. There was constant pressure on players to perform, and on coaches to win. Mahindra United were a professional team, and I would not have left them if the management had not shut down the football team, he says.”

Two career moves — to Mumbai Tigers and Bharat FC — backfired on Steven. Bimal Ghosh gave him the first major break at Air-India, so when the coach came calling again asking Steven to join Mumbai Tigers, he agreed. “Bimal always brought out the best in me and returning to Mumbai to play I-League was added attraction. Bengaluru FC were interested, but I chose to be with my first coach. Then to my shock, the management decided to withdraw from Indian football without giving any reason,” he says.

Bharat FC appointed a foreign coach, Steve Watkiss, and signed big names, including Steven’s India team-mate Gouramangi Singh before they brought down the shutters after the team finished last in the I-League in their debut season.

“I heard that Pune FC and Royal Wahingdoh are also planning to close down. Where will the players go? The ISL should give more opportunities to Indian players. Otherwise the younger lot, attracted to football by ISL’s glamour, foreign stars and money, will realise that reality on the ground is different,” Steven opines.

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