Back for second helping

`I like to be in control, to dictate the pace of the game. And with goals also happening, the Malaysia experience was enjoyable.' — Barreto

NANDAKUMAR MARAR

R. RAGU

PUTTING the differences with Mohun Bagan club administrators behind him, Jose Barreto is back for a second helping of Indian club football. It took a lot of persuasion and followup from Mahindra United management to make him change his mind, coupled with an offer which makes him the highest-paid foreign pro.

Malaysian club Penang offered him captaincy, responsibility and respect in a new place. He moved from specialist striker position to a more supportive, central role in the midfield.

Calls from Goan clubs, even from Bagan officials eager to erase memories of the Kolkata walkout in 2003, convinced the Brazilian that his stock had only risen in India. He opted for Mahindra United and relative calm of the Mumbai league in the hope of devoting more time to family. "I have two daughters and want to spend time with them," said the 28-year-old Porto Alegre player after his first training session with the new club.

"Mahindra expect good football from me. I'm happy to be back."

The physical play in the Malaysian league has made him confident of handling pressure in the relatively milder Indian version. "I can handle the hard knocks, it is only rough play which upsets me a little," reasoned Barreto. Like any Brazilian, ball control and balletic movements are his forte, spectacular goals conceived out of nowhere are his speciality. A deeply religious person, he counts Kolkata mates and rivals among his friends.

Deepak Mondal for example, arch-enemy in East Bengal vs Bagan games when the India defender policed the Brazilian, is just another fellow player now with Mahindra United. "We fought for bread on the field. After the match was over, we broke bread together. The Kolkata league players here, like James Singh, Sandeep Nandy and Mondal know the kind of person I am," said Barreto. Breaking down barriers between him and lesser-paid Indians is the first step towards winning respect. Inspired passes and timely goals in Federation Cup 2005 will help.

Excerpts from an interview:

Question: You are coming here from Malaysia after two seasons with Penang? Is the Malaysian league different from our National Football League?

Answer: The Malaysian league is more physical. Indian football is more creative, teams there play hard and there is lot of powerplay. It was difficult initially, I had come from Brazil, then played in India, but managed because motivation at that time was high. It was my first season and wanted to prove that I was good enough to be there. Penang made me captain straightaway, so I also felt the responsibility of carrying the team along. My first season in Malaysia was good. The team moved from relegation zone to fourth place, the second season was okay.

The World Cup 2006 qualifiers have witnessed surprise results, nations like Togo, Angola advancing at the expense of established teams. Do debutants help world football?

World Cup football is all about nations; the pride of representing your country. Togo and Angola are in for the first time. They are small countries whose players will go through the World Cup experience. Football is all about living your dreams, so the game will definitely benefit by getting more and more countries to play at the highest level.

Nigeria exports exciting talents to European leagues, but the experience doesn't seem to help consolidate the national team. Any explanation for Nigeria's shock exit from the 2006 World Cup?

The maximum surprises happened in African zone, it happened for good. Nigeria and Cameroon lost due to over-confidence, the players dismissed Angola as a weak opponent. Federation politics and player power were also responsible to a certain extent. In a nation like Nigeria with so many youngsters playing European pro leagues, the players were in control, training and playing as they wished. Money earned, public fame went to their heads. There was no respect for opponents. So now the World Cup upsets will lead to public outrage. The players of these African teams will understand and appreciate that discipline is vital for talent to come through. Brazil also has so many stars, but when it comes to World Cup, they play as one unit. We have talented youngsters and seniors playing side by side, we take the World Cup very seriously, even the qualifying rounds.

Brazilian footballers are making an impact in all major pro leagues. Can you explain the reason behind Brazilians' ability to adjust to different setups and merge with varied playing styles?

It is not just the Brazilians who are adjusting. As professionals, we come here to work, so adapting is part of the job. When I came here for Mohun Bagan, apart from getting used to football, language was a big problem. I learnt English for better communication, now I want to learn Hindi.

How did you make the mental switch from specialist striker in Mohun Bagan, to supportive midfield role in Penang? Scoring goals is supposed to be the high for forwards?

I like to play as attacking midfielder. I scored many goals for Penang, coming from behind. Normally, it is easier to score when you are in and around the goal mouth, but the surprise element in a midfield role attracted me. I like to be in control, to dictate the pace of the game. And with goals also happening, the Malaysia experience was enjoyable.

Indian club football opened its doors to foreign pros, resulting in quality players like you coming here. Have Indian internationals become smarter after playing with foreigners?

I can't really talk about it. You should be asking the Indians whether they learnt to play better. My job is to help my team with my skills. Interaction depends on rapport I have with players, whether I know them well on and off the field. For example, I know Yakubu well among the Mahindra players. Apart from being a good footballer, I know he is a good person. As senior pros, we are always trying to understand our group, it helps the team to play better.