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Player Diaries: Climax Lawrence- The Finest Midfielder India Has Produced

Written by: Climax Lawrence

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This game has given me everything I dreamed off, without it I'm just an ordinary human being.

I was just 3-4 years old when my father and uncle used to take me to football matches. Both were playing for a local club and I used to watch them play. There, I was inspired by their play. During those times, they were quite famous players in the local circuit. Slowly, I started playing football myself. 

At that point in time, Salcete FC used to hold a football camp for kids and I would go there. Later, I was selected to play for a U-14 team by our local coach Mickdom Rebello. He was my first coach but even then I never thought of football as a career. I never played in my school team, but I was a regular starter for my Higher Secondary team. Later, I was picked by another local coach to play for the GFA 3rd Division team, Silversand SC.

Climax Lawrence had some of his best performances in the Red-and-Golds' jersey

Here, I played my first professional match. I was selected by Sirvodem SC to play a U-19 tournament and we won. It was the first ever U-19 tournament in the state. In 1995, I got a chance to play for Salcete FC in the Goa Professional league (GPL). From there, the then Vasco SC coach called me for trials and I was selected. After spending a year with them, I joined Salgaocar FC in 1999 and there was no looking back. 

It was like a dream come true for me because playing for a big club was always my dream but there was one more twist.  Everybody knows me as a midfielder but before joining Salgaocar, I used to play as a striker. Like any other player, I also love to score goals. So, I played as a striker for Salcete in the GPL and even at Vasco. However, when I joined Salgaocar, I had competition from players like Bruno Coutinho, Alvito De Cunha and some foreign strikers. Then coach Marcus Pacheco told me to play as a midfielder. I quickly accepted it as I wanted to be in the starting XI. But, the new position did not stop me from scoring goals. That season I scored around 6-7 goals and slowly, I adapted to my new role in the team. 

I played five seasons for them and that's how it all started. I was not a regular. but I never wasted any opportunity to prove myself and in the year 2002, I was rewarded for my hard-work. I still remember that evening. We were playing against Vasco SC in the National Football league (now I-League) and National team coach Stephen Constantine was in the stands to scout for a national camp for the SAFF Cup in 2003.

Climax plied his trade for ATK in the initial stages of the Indian Super League and shared the stage with UEFA Champions League winner Luis Garcia

In that match, I came off the bench for the last 30 minutes. I played my normal game as I did not know about scouting at that moment. The next day, the coach came up with a happy face and told us that there is some good news. He came to me and told me that I have been selected for the national camp. I was in seventh heaven. I just cannot express how happy I was at that moment. 

After completion of the camp, I was selected in the final squad and we traveled to Bangladesh for SAFF Cup 2003. I did not play in the first game against Pakistan, which we lost. We were disappointed after a defeat to Pakistan. The following day, the coach came and told me that I will be playing the next match against Afghanistan. I was a bit nervous as that was my first international match. But he (Constantine) told me to play my normal game and give my best. With those words from the head coach, I got back my confidence and played the full 90 minutes and gave my best. Though we won that match by four goals, we did not perform well in that tournament and finished third losing to hosts Bangladesh in the semi-finals.

After coming back from national duty, I realized that it was a new chapter in my life. At the same time, my career was also taking a new turn as I got an offer from Kolkata giants East Bengal in 2004. I played there for one season and it was really challenging. Playing in Kolkata is really tough, not because of the tough competition, but because of the fans. The football fans of Kolkata are passionate about their clubs, unlike in Goa. In Goa, fans are passionate about football. They want quality football. I don’t think Goa has a culture of supporting a single club because Goans believe in quality football. That is why Inter-village football tournaments attract more crowds than any I-League match in the state. 

After spending a year in Kolkata I wanted to stay there, but their management was not ready to accept some terms resulting in the end of the contract. I came back to Goa as I had an offer from Dempo Sports Club, and I took no time to sign for them as they were the champions of the National Football League. Dempo will always have a special place in my heart. I have won everything here. It was the best phase of my career. 


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It was a great setup under the then coach, Armando Colaco. We were like a family, playing for our own club. At Dempo, we learned the lessons of life, especially how to deal with difficulties. The coach never pressurised us for victories. He always asked us to enjoy our game till we were a part of it. Winning and losing are part of the game, he believed. This was the major reason behind Dempo's success.  Any coach can bring success to a club, but it is very important to keep it going and Armando did exactly that.

The most successful coach in Indian football Colaco has played an important role in my football career. He is the one who always motivates me to do better. Under him, I have improved my game immensely. He has never judged me on a single performance and has always kept faith in me. I have played under so many coaches but Colaco was different. He never used to put pressure on any player. He groomed me to become a better midfielder.

In the interim, I got numerous opportunities to prove myself at international level. Playing for the country always gave me the satisfaction of being a professional player. For me, a player's career is not successful until he represents the country. 

From my debut match against Afghanistan, till I retired in 2012, I always found a place in the starting XI and I am proud of this. Another coincidence is that I started my international career against Afghanistan and retired after playing my last match against the same country.

After international retirement, I joined Mumbai FC in 2013. It was a good time in the metropolis. I enjoyed playing there, but it was different at that time. I never saw them contesting for the title. They just wanted to stay in the top tier and I had a decent role to play there.

Mumbai FC signed the experienced midfielder in 2013

I was picked by Atletico de Kolkata (now ATK) in the inaugural season of the Indian Super League (ISL). I was happy to be a part of the competition. For me, it was like a big football tournament happening in the country for the first time, but my dream of playing alongside Luis Garcia was shattered as I was hit by an injury. However, they (ATK) paid full attention to my injury and helped me to recover as soon as possible. But, by the time I came back to training the team was already set and performing well. So, I was a bit disappointed as I couldn't play any games. However, after winning the title, coach Antonio López Habas himself came to me and told me not to get disappointed and wished me luck for the future.

The ISL can be the best thing that has ever happened to Indian football, only if the league is structured properly for the betterment of the country's football. If the I-League had been taken seriously by everybody, I don’t think we would have needed the ISL. I said "everybody" because the All India Football Federation (AIFF) is not solely responsible for the downfall of the league. The clubs are equally responsible. Even the media did not play its role well.

However, a 3-month long league will not help Indian football to grow. But, now proper steps are taking place. A proper structure will obviously help us to grow. Recently India have improved their FIFA ranking and the ISL has played its small part. It has attracted attention towards football in the country.

Again, there are cons to it. The legacy of Indian football is being left behind. The top three Goan clubs withdrew from the I-League last season. These clubs have given a lot to Indian football. They have invested lots of money just for the love of the game. Practically, for any I-League club owners, it is a loss-making venture because no club in the league is making a profit. On top of that if you make their league a second tier league then it is completely unjust towards their contribution to Indian football.

Climax Lawrence looks up to Dempo's all time greatest coach for mentoring him

Due to the pullout of the clubs, Goa has witnessed a downturn in its football culture. In the recent ISL Draft, out of 200 players, only 23 or 24 were Goans. That was a big blow for Goan football. A few years back, there used to be 6-7 Goans in the national team's starting XI and now we hardly see anyone from the state. It is because they don’t have a stage to represent themselves at the national level. I'm afraid that it will get worse if the scenario is not changed soon. 

Now the AIFF has come up with two parallel leagues but it won’t work for a long. They (AIFF) must think of a unified league, with a combination of legacy clubs and ISL ones, which will help football to grow in the country.

At the age of 35, I  signed for GPL side TUFF Laxmi Prasad FC in 2015. I was given the responsibility of the club's armband. I practiced hard in the pre-season to get fully fit before the GPL starts. That season the Goa Police Cup was revived after a gap of five years. We all were excited to play as the club finished runners-up in last season and wanted to continue the same form.

The hard-work paid off as we won the tournament. It was a big achievement for me as I played all four matches and the full 90 minutes in each game, but just four days after winning the cup, the club's head coach Valentino Eziko kept me out of the GPL's first two matches. It was really frustrating for me. So, I asked him for the reason behind it. I was really shocked to hear his answer. He said, "I want you to prove yourself to me."

I was not there to prove myself at the age of 35. I played all four matches giving my best in the Police Cup and still he had a problem with me. I really can’t explain what was going through my mind at that time. He told the club president to choose between him and me. I left the club as I didn't want to ruin team’s good form under him.  I still regret my decision to join them. The problem was not only with me as he had kept out most of the seniors from the playing XI.

Then, FC Bardez Goa, a newly formed club came to me and asked for my services but in a new role. They wanted me to be the assistant coach of the club and head of the youth side.  I was not sure about it, but Colaco again came to rescue me. He gave me that confidence to believe in myself.

It was a big challenge for me. It was all new for me. That time I suddenly remembered Armando's words when I used to play under him. He used to tell us to do our coaching courses as that will help us after retirement. Being a player is very easy, but being a coach is tough. You have the responsibility on your shoulders. Sometimes your tactics backfire, at other times your plans do not work but still, you need to be calm and control everything. I am still trying to learn those things. It is bit difficult at times, but it keeps me connected with football. So, now, my new target is to achieve the same name as a coach which I have achieved as a player.

 

Published: Sun Sep 10, 2017 03:40 PM IST

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