Intercontinental Cup: Mandar Rao keen to replicate club form for national side

The 27-year-old versatile player attributes his growth to the exposure he has gained playing for FC Goa, where he was made the captain last season.

Mandar Rao Desai assisted Sunil Chhetri's goal from open play against Tajikistan in the first match of the match Intercontinental Cup. (file photo)   -  Deepak Malik

As the Indian national football team looks to turn a new page under head coach Igor Stimac, there is a new bunch of players who have received a call-up to the roster the Croatian is planning for the future. Mandar Rao Desai, ignored in the previous regime under Stephen Constantine, made his international debut in the opening match of the Intercontinental Cup against Tajikistan and impressed the coach with his performance at left-back.

“My coach (Stimac) believes that I can help in the attack and that I think is my strong point. Even when I am turning out for my club as a winger or as a left full-back, I have always been moving up and helping the attack,” said Mandar, who made his presence felt with his assists in the two goals that India scored against Tajikistan.

“He (Desai) played very well and is a good talent for the national side. He is giving us more options in the position where we also have the likes of Jerry (Lalrinzuala) and Subhasish (Bose),” Stimac had said after the first match. Desai is well aware of the competition he is facing from some of his compatriots who have been doing well for their respective club sides. “There are a lot of young players in the squad and I have to really work hard to secure my position. I am willing to do that,” Desai said.

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The 27-year-old versatile player attributed his growth to the exposure he got with FC Goa, where he was named the captain last season. “Starting under a legend like Zico is a great thing. I have also shared the dressing room with international stars like Lucio, Robert Pires and later with the likes of (Ferran) Corominas and Edu (Bedia),” Desai said. “I received a lot of advice and motivation from these big names. I also treasure the advice of Zico who asked me to believe in my ability and enjoy the game. Even Sergio (Lobera) my present coach has been supportive of my creative style of play,” Desai added.

Desai is not willing to be drawn into the debate whether he expected the call-up to the national squad a few years earlier. “A call up to the national team could have been there earlier but I have nothing to say about it. Age is just a number and it is good that I have been able to realise my dream of playing for the country,” Desai said. “The hard work that I put with FC Goa in the previous five seasons did helped me a lot and the National team call-up is a proof of that,” Desai said.

Being named the captain of FC Goa is a proof enough of his evolution as a key player in the side, feels Desai. “My international colleagues like Coro, Edu and (Ahmed) Jahouh have a lot of faith in me and such is with my Indian colleagues,” Desai said.

He added that the five seasons of ISL have given the Indian players a lot of exposure to a very high standard of football. “I have definitely gained a lot from the exposure and we learnt to keep the ball and build up slowly. Sergio, who was with FC Barcelona, has also fine tuned our approach. We are definitely playing much better than before.”

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