Playing in only his second senior match of his career, Saviour Gama, 21, had to quickly strip off his substitute bib and take the place of the injured FC Goa skipper Mandar Rao Dessai in the dying minutes of the first half in the Indian Super League final last month.
The wiry left-back had the unenviable task of going toe-to-toe with Bengaluru FC’s Udanta Singh, who is regarded as the fastest winger in India at the moment. “It was scary,” Gama recalls.
“I had warmed up for only two minutes before going in. Then, at half-time, I had to have my full warm-up. The coach (Sergio Lobera) hugged me and told me not to be scared.”
Gama barely put a foot wrong on that night in Mumbai. “Once, I stepped on the pitch I was confident. It was pressurizing but I put everything out on the pitch,” he says. Ironically, it was the corner which he conceded of a sliding block in the 116 minute in extra time, which ultimately led to Bengaluru’s winner.
“It was devastating. It was the worst moment of my life.” As he utters those words, his enthusiasm sulks. “It was really difficult and I didn't sleep for a night. Tears were flowing. The whole team was depressed,” he says.
Gama’s parents, who were at the Mumbai Football Arena, phoned their son to console him. Senior players Carlos Pena and Mourtada Fall had to lift a dejected dressing room, which had fallen agonisingly short.
Living the dream
Gama has now taken the loss under his stride and is living his dream of starting for his local club, FC Goa, since his inception in 2014.
The boy from Chicalim made his full debut in Goa’s 1-0 win against Chennaiyin FC in the final match of the league stages in February. “It was a dream come true. It was surprising that the coach played me against Chennai,” he says.
On his debut, he flew in full-blooded into his tackles on established stars C. K. Vineeth and Raphael Augusto. “Boys in Chicalim are very rough [with tackles]. It’s in my blood too, I am very rough. I used to get into fights,” he grins. But, he says that he had an excitement to put on a show that night despite weeding out that element of his play early in his career.
Before signing for FC Goa in 2017, Gama was playing for FC Bardez in TACA U-20 league. While playing in a local tournament, he was spotted by Joaquin Castro, a noted Goan scout, who is credited with discovering Rowllin Borges, Joaquim Abranches and Romeo Fernandes. Joaquin asked him to attend an FC Goa trial headed by Derrick Pereira, the then assistant coach, at Chowgules. He impressed during the trials and was immediately signed up for the club’s developmental side.
After a season with the developmental side, Gama was taken on the pre-season trip to Spain where he impressed Lobera and has since trained with the senior team.
Seizing his opportunity
Mandar’s continued absence has allowed Gama a sustained run in the starting XI in the Super Cup and he has grabbed his opportunities. In the semifinal contest against the I-League champion Chennai City FC, Gama held his own by shutting down attacks down his flank. Goa ran out 3-0 winner and the left-back was voted the player-of-the-match.
“The first half was difficult as I found it hard to breathe. After half time, I got some rest and played well in the second half. Our defence was very compact and we kept the ball and attacked very well,” he says.
His maturity on the big occasions has made an impression on his coach Lobera. “Regardless of the talent, he has been mature enough to go out on the pitch in tough situations like the ISL final. Nowadays, players can be technically and tactically good but maturity has to come from the player. I am happy with the performance he has had in the last one month,” said Lobera.
Gama will now go into another final with a shot at winning a trophy — Goa's first — against Chennaiyin. This time, he won’t need to scurry off the bench. He will be ready from the start.