The NorthEast United captain also reflects on a diffult season, the impact of the FIFA U-17 World Cup and much more.
The story so far for NorthEast United FC this season has been along the same lines as in previous years. Languishing at the 9th position after just 10 points from 11 games, there was a major shake up at the top management level with coach Joao Carlos Pires De Deus relieved of his duties in the wake of the 0-5 drubbing at the hands of Pune City FC.
In came Eelco Schattorie and Avram Grant and though it is too early to speculate but the initial signs look positive with the home team pulling of an impressive 2-1 win over their more fancied rivals, FC Goa in the duo’s first assignment. Since then the Highlanders have managed to follow an alternate win-lose trend as they prepare for their upcoming game against FC Goa on Sunday.
Khel Now’s Guwahati correspondent Debajit Sarma had the opportunity to sit down for an exclusive chat with NEUFC captain Jose Goncalves at the team hotel in Guwahati. The much travelled centre-back and the Highlanders bulwark in talking over the course of the interview exuded an air of calmness and positivity, two traits that his team needs to imbibe in seeking an upturn in results.
Goncalves was born in Lisbon, Portugal and moved to Switzerland at the age of two where he started his career and then went to play in many countries around the world. Reflecting on where it all started, he said “ All the people in my family have been long- time supporters of SL Benfica, I remember I was only 4 years old and was watching with my father on TV the Derby de Lisboa between Benfica and Sporting. During the match, my father was so passionate and he was jumping and screaming on the couch, I also felt the same emotion as like I was also supporting the same team and that’s how I fell in love with the game.”
Dwelling on it further he added, “At the age of 5, I started playing at the club, at that innocent and naïve age it was my dream to play on TV and I even told my parents about it. So to fulfil my dream I started taking my football seriously and at 12 years of age when you play at the best club of your region, you give yourself a good chance of making it as a professional footballer.”
Goncalves has plied his trade in Switzerland, Italy, Lithuania, Scotland, Germany and USA and this is his first ever foray into Indian football. Jose treasures all these experiences close to his heart. ”I gained a lot of experiences playing in different leagues, learning different styles of football and tactics, playing under different coaches. All these helped me improve, not only as a footballer but also as a human being.”
Commenting on his Indian sojourn, Jose wished to make the Indian leg of his footballing journey equally memorable, “I got a very warm welcome from the club and the people around here, I had the chance to talk to people and they are very friendly, they love talking about the game and are passionate about their football. This is something I really like coming into a new country.” He continued, “Now I am here in India, I don’t want to just play football but also experience very good moments here.”
NorthEast United FC announced the signings of eight new foreigners for this season including Goncalves, explaining the reason behind his signing for the Highlanders, he said “I had heard about the strong football culture in the region, also as I came here I learnt that a number of good players in Indian Football come from the North East. The owners and the people working at the club had also told me about the passionate fan support that the club enjoys. In addition a number of Portuguese players and coaches have been here. So all these helped me make up my mind in joining this club.”
The Highlanders had a very poor start to the ISL this season
NorthEast United until now has endured a poor run of performances leading to a 9th position in the table with only 10 points in the bag. The team has undergone a managerial shake-up and the situation currently is far from rosy. But the Highlanders captain stressed on the need for patience and believed the good results would follow.
“In every club or in every job the start may be a bit slow, but what happens at the end is really important and also is the work that we have been doing since the start of the season. We have 8 new international players and a lot of new Indian players at the club. If you want to achieve something, it is not an overnight process, it takes time, months and even years staying together and building together a team and that’s how you get stronger and that’s our objective. Yes, the start has been very slow but hopefully we will grow as a team and have more success.”
Commenting on the arrivals of Eelco Schattorie and Avram Grant to the coaching staff and the road ahead with them, he said, “They have been here shortly and seem to believe in keeping the things simple. They have enough experience to give and to tell to the players. It was very important for us to start the new year on a positive note, the boys showed character in the last game and we did this well. We want to keep going obviously and with them as a new change it is always good. We are focussed on winning our next games.
Goncalves also shared his thoughts on the similarities between the ISL and the other leagues he has played in. “The Portuguese and the Swiss leagues are similar to the ISL in the way that they have players who are quick and run a lot, the game is tricky and technical and also the game has a lot of tempo”, he said.
Jose Goncalves also played for New England Revolution in the MLS
Before joining NorthEast United Goncalves was a part of MLS side New England Revolution, where he won the Division’s best defender award in the 2013 season. On the lessons the ISL can learn from its American counterpart, he said, “I think the ISL has been doing very well since its formation and is growing every year, it has a lot of similarities with the MLS having a franchise based system with more teams coming into the league every year meaning a longer season.”
“To improve I think, the academies are always important so that you can develop good players from your country and also from your region. Also having experienced players and coaches from all around the world coming into the league who can work with the Indian players at close quarters and help them understand the game better. The MLS over the years have been doing this and ISL should take a leaf out of its book and build good academies for the future of the league and the football in the country as a whole.”
Goncalves had positive things to say about the impact hosting a tournament like the FIFA U-17 World Cup would have on Indian Football. “Hosting a tournament like this helps in bringing up collective conscience for the game in the country in which there are already a huge number of passionate fans. With the infrastructure in place for the tournament and along with development of good academies, India with its population of 1.3 billion has a massive potential for developing world class players who can play in the leagues abroad.”
The Portuguese national football team during a training session
The discussion then veered to the International Football and Jose was more than happy to talk about his native Portugal’s national team. “They are in the top 5 teams of the world (FIFA ranking: 3rd), the European Championships were won in France and they qualified for the world cup topping their group above Switzerland. They have shown that they are a good side with players like Ronaldo, Quaresma and Pepe in their mix. So I think they are deservingly among the top 5 teams of the world”)
Over the course of his long career, Goncalves had the opportunity to play with and against some of the biggest names in International football. On the best player he played with, “I twice had the opportunity to trial with the Portugal National Team, so in training, the best player I’ve played with is definitely Cristiano Ronaldo.”
On the best player he has played against,“ I would say Thierry Henry (Arsenal) in 2005 at his best, (when I played) for FC Thun in the Champions League. He was very good.”