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I was only seven years old when I started to idolise De Bruyne, says Niall Goghavala in Exclusive Interview

Published at :May 30, 2024 at 12:38 PM
Modified at :May 30, 2024 at 12:38 PM
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(Courtesy : Niall Goghavala Instagram)

Sattyik Sarkar

Niall Goghavala will represent Blackburn Rovers’ U16 side and aims to be a scholar at the club.

A few days ago, a young kid from Mumbai got his name in history books. Previously a part of the Barca Academy Mumbai and Mumbai City FC‘s youth setup, Niall Goghavala made a mark when he signed for the underage team of Blackburn Rovers in England.

Having a Canadian passport and being a resident of the United Kingdom has helped Niall Goghavala to play for Blackburn and he is also eligible to represent England in the future if he gets promoted to that level.

Recently, Khel Now had the opportunity to interact exclusively with the young forward. The excerpts are shared below:

1. Can you please tell us how the Blackburn Rovers deal came about and a few details of the deal that the Indian football fans can know?

Blackburn Rovers Academy is near where I live and go to school. The Academies in England are categorised and the Rovers are a Category 1 club; The elite Category One status under the Premier League’s Elite Players Performance Plan (EPPP).

After sending in my Football Reel and CV I was invited to come in for a trial. Following a successful 2 weeks on trial, Blackburn offered me the opportunity to sign and play with the U-16s for the upcoming season. 

During the processing of international clearance, I continued to train with the team. A few weeks later I was asked to come in and sign the contract. On the last day of the season, which coincided with my mom’s birthday, I scored two goals and assisted one in a match. We celebrated with an amazing lunch in the countryside. 

From the first day I arrived at the training ground, being at Blackburn Rovers felt right. Everyone from the coaches and the players to the administrators and security staff were all very welcoming. I’ve learned a great deal in just the few weeks I’ve been here. I am looking forward to putting in the work and developing into the best player I can be. I know I’m in the right hands. 

I was only seven years old when I started to idolise De Bruyne, says Niall Goghavala in Exclusive Interview
Niall Goghavala.

Every country plays to its beat and rhythm. I was selected to play for Cornella in Barcelona last year and in Spain, the emphasis is on progressing the ball quickly and precisely. In England, football is played at a more aggressive pace while being very technical.

There’s even a difference between the way the game is played between the teams from the North and South. Our ability to adapt quickly and efficiently is something that is crucial to our success and that’s what I pride myself on.

2. At such a young age, you have already made your mark in India. Can you point out one moment from your life that propelled you to take up football as a profession?

There’s no one moment. Football, like everything else in life, is about the long game and I’ve loved it ever since I started playing 10 years ago. The more you play, the more you learn about the intricate yet vital parts of this beautiful game, and the more my love for the sport grows. I know the possibilities are limitless. 

It takes unwavering hard work, and there are always obstacles to overcome, which I have already experienced, but it only strengthens my hunger to strive and reach my potential. 

One of the things I love most about football is how important the team element is over taking up an individual sport. 

As much as I love scoring goals as a centre-forward for the team, it always felt just as rewarding as a midfielder assisting or being involved in the play-making aspect. That’s why I admire how Pep Guardiola gets all his players playing the way they do. 

3. You were a part of the Barca Academy in Mumbai. Can you brief us about some crucial learnings you received from the coaches and mentors out there?

Barca Academy, the coaches and technical directors there, were instrumental in my early understanding and development of the game. The focus at Barca is on player development and the fundamentals; technique, space, movement, and “The Barca Way”; in addition to the attention put into player values and ethics.

I will always remember having to tuck my shirt in, lining up in a single file before stepping on the pitch, the handshakes with the coaches after each session, and applauding the other team after each game.  No one else in the city did that but it instilled the importance of discipline, respect, and sportsmanship.

We were encouraged to play many different positions over the years. It brings about a greater understanding of the game, for the players who are open to it. I played virtually every position at some point over the 5/6 years I was there, though attacking midfielder was the one that stuck in my time there.

4. How different was the Mumbai City youth setup compared to that of Barca Academy?

It’s a very different setup. Especially from the year I was selected to play. Mumbai City FC, a City Group team, places a greater focus on understanding and implementing the values and expectations of a professional player and what it means to play representing the City of Mumbai and the Man City way.

That first year brought together some top players from around the region and we had an amazing season together. There was a great bond between us and a team spirit that rooted straight from the coaches to the physios, kit team, Academy director, and staff. The atmosphere was always very encouraging. Everything we won that year was truly a collective team achievement. 

I was only seven years old when I started to idolise De Bruyne, says Niall Goghavala in Exclusive Interview
Niall Goghavala at Mumbai City FC.

There is a lot of quality time spent with players in understanding habits that are important for performance like proper nutrition and hydration, especially with the extreme temperatures that we played in. Injury prevention and care through our warm-up and activation sessions was another area that was emphasized in every session. We also had to share our school reports every term to ensure the education of every player was prioritized.

I transitioned from an attacking midfielder to a center forward and learned to play the position throughout the season. I worked a lot with my coaches and created some great partnerships with my teammates, which is everything in a team game. 

Being awarded the Golden Boot at the WIFA State Championships and Best Forward by WIFA MFA this year was an amazing way to end the season, especially after overcoming a long-term, contact injury towards the end of last year that I sustained at the Nationals. 

Playing at Mumbai City FC allowed me to evolve not only in my game but as a person off the pitch as well. 

5. There have been instances in the past where we have seen underage Indian players perform at the same level as those in Europe. But as the Indian players grew up, it seemed that they got lost in the crowd and were not able to make it to the international stage.

Have you spoken about your long-term future with any of the coaches (Barca Academy, Mumbai City, or now Blackburn)?

No one can predict what the future holds. We can only “do” what it takes to make our dreams come true. For me, that means working hard, doing the little things every day, and believing it’s possible. 

I’ve had the fortune of having incredible coaches and a supportive family and I continue to now at Blackburn. With my work ethic and mentality, I believe that my future holds endless possibilities.

6. Do you have any role model(s)? If yes, then why is that person a role model to you?

I was seven years old when I started to idolize De Bruyne. I remember going to a fair at the Mahalaxmi Race Course and I saw that Wolfsburg had a kiosk with a bunch of fun football challenges. Wolfsburg was KDB’s old team. I did all the challenges and won a Wolfsburg cap, a ball, and a signed KDB Jersey.

I was over the moon. Then later that day the guys working the stand came running after us saying they weren’t supposed to give the signed jersey away and they would get in a lot of trouble for it, so I gave it back. 

I’ve always admired De Bruyne’s mentality and ability to make that pass that no one else can see and of course score some brilliant goals along the way. 

As a center-forward, I look up to many attacking greats and the different styles they bring to their game. From Erling Haaland to Harry Kane, Robert Lewandowski, Kylian Mbappe, Alexander Isak, and many more. I like to take the different strengths of each game and aspire to learn from them to constantly improve my level.

7. Has the club laid down a certain blueprint for your career/development at Blackburn Rovers?

I was only seven years old when I started to idolise De Bruyne, says Niall Goghavala in Exclusive Interview
Niall Goghavala.

I will be playing for the Rovers U16 team this upcoming season. My goal is to train well, put in strong performances, and aim to become a scholar at Blackburn. It’s a long journey even after that, and many stages ahead of me to get to where I want to be. Right now, my focus is to get ready for the upcoming pre-season and have the best season possible.

8. Any message you would like to share with the young footballers here in India?

I would say be patient and focus on your development. Avoid jumping from team to team. Instead, trust the process, and stay with the coaches who believe in you and your ability. The ones who genuinely want the best for you. If you truly have that dream, do everything to give yourself the best chance at success.

Don’t slack off with missing training sessions, do your work constantly on and off the pitch. Try to keep your diet as healthy and nutritious as possible. It has to be a permanent lifestyle. It’s hard work, but that’s what it takes. Most importantly though embrace your unique journey and have fun. That’s what makes it special! Never let anyone tell you, you can’t reach for your dreams. 

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