In a world where the “next best thing” is always a hot commodity, one cannot describe how pleasant it is to browse the papers over a pint, skimming through an article about the next exciting football prospect worth going down to the betting store over and putting down some Randela’s on them becoming top class internationals. Now very few of these protégés end up becoming the greats they were hyped up to be by the glowing reviews, as my bookmakers bank balance will attest to; but the journeys I have undergone tracking many of these young players has been worth every single penny scraped into a bet.
When one speaks of a young Indian entertainer primed to take his nation onto the next level, the thought of a Bollywood star or rising cricket sensation will come to mind long before one entertains the notion of an Indian footballer good enough to play at the elite level and pave the way for young Indian athletes who are handier with their feet than they are with their hands.
Brandon Fernandes begun his football tutelage at the age of 6 when he was enrolled into the youth academy at Fransa-Pax by his folks, he then left to join the youth academy at Velasao Pale Sports Club, after his previous club disbanded, and played for the u/14 side while just 8 years old and begun to show early signs of his immense potential. The lad proceeded to further his development by returning home to sign for Goa United Football Academy as a trainee before securing a move to Salgaocar where he joined the youth setup and represented the team at u/14, u/16 & u/19 levels.
It was his growing reputation and impressive performances for Salgaocar and the India junior national teams that combined to earn him a move to the prestigious and ever-growing ASD Cape Town youth development centre in 2010, the then 16 year old became the first Asian footballer to enrol at the academy and his development continued at a steady rate as he acclimatised well to the change in playing standard and style before going on to represent ASD Cape Town’s senior developmental squad in the SAFA Second Division, 3rd tier of South African football, with an impressive return of 12 goals in 12 games for Salt Water Blackpool with some impressive displays that exhibited his technical proficiency as four of his strikes came from free-kick situations. The wunderkind begun to demand attention from visiting scouts and it wasn’t long before he was being invited to trial at the likes of Leicester City, Reading & Sunderland with the English football sides all having a look at the player while his visit to St Mirren in Scotland was curtailed by an unfortunate injury. There was no doubting his potential, yet there seemed to be a season or two missing from his game if he was to cut the mustard at the elite level as some gaffers felt as though the player wasn’t an upgrade to what they were developing themselves within their youth structures; a fair assessment that should have led to a re-evaluation of targets for the youngster, he could have followed the path of fellow ASD Cape Town graduates and moved to Belgium, where he would get a chance to play regular first team football at a relatively high level and developed further before earning his move to the upper echelons of world club football.
Many begun to doubt the young lads readiness to make the leap onto the elite level after he failed to secure a move to an overseas based club in a big league, hindsight has shown the young man that he may have been too eager to move too soon and his ambitions needed to be supplemented with a large dose of realism, he should be looking to move to bigger sides in smaller leagues and place himself in the shop window for the bigger sides; that was all before he returned home to play from his home state, Goa, in the 2014 Lusophony Games where he impressed all and sundry with his domineering displays in the heart of midfield where he pulled the strings in a fluid orchestra and returned with 3 goals and 2 assists in 4 games as his team clinched the gold medal in a thrilling encounter against the Mozambique u/20 side. Brandon chose to bide his time and recover from an injury niggle in India, much to the dismay of ASD Cape Town, and the player continued to angle towards an overseas move while shunning 7 offers from Indian I-League sides; the player rightfully felt that he was at a level higher than the I-League, yet he was overambitious in this attempt to move and he was humbled for the overzealous nature of his approach to dealing with his contract situation and could have stunted his growth with a prolonged absence from regular competitive football.
The ultimate sign of his fall in the pecking order was his omission from the 2014 Hero Indian Super League player draft pool, and the fact that he still went unsigned when the clubs were free to negotiate with free agents of their choosing was all the more baffling. After months in the football wilderness, recovering from his injury troubles and preparing to rebuild his once flourishing career, the creative midfield genius penned a contract with hometown club Sporting Clube de Goa in September of 2014 after a stint training with the club and playing in a friendly game; the club were only able to attain his international clearance papers in January of 2015 and that meant more time away from competitive football for the midfield general, Brandon made his debut for the club on the 8th of February due to injuries slowing his progress down a tad bit as he returned to fire Sporting Goa to 8th place in the 11 team league and secure the club survival with some impressive late-season performances that coincided with the return of Brandon Fernandes to full fitness. Sporting Clube de Goa won 5 of the nine games Brandon played in during the season and only lost once with him in the side, that speaks volumes of his contribution to the side when one considers the fact that the club only won 5 games all season and had a record of 6 losses and 5 draws without him in the team; Brandon’s 4 goals scored coupled with his assists and dominant performances in a wide array of attacking positions will have shown a few doubters that he still possesses that spark of brilliance they thought had already fanned out prematurely.
Brand Fernandes, as his beloved Goan supporters call him, was rewarded for his excellent form in the I-League by not only being included in the 2015 Indian Super league domestic player draft pool, but by also being selected as a first round (6th overall) draft pick that had hometown club FC Goa willing to go to the trading block with Mumbai City for the services of a player that should be considered a marquee signing in this year’s edition of the Indian Super League; Mumbai City stated that the player was unavailable for a trade at any price and they intend to build their side around a young Indian footballer with such outstanding potential and improved maturity on and off the field. The 2015 ISL will be the perfect platform for Brandon to prove to all watching that he should still be considered one of the premier young Asian footballers on the planet; the lad needs to dig even deeper and show that he does have the desire to fulfil his potential and go down as one of the greatest Indian men to shun the cricket grounds for the football fields, and Bob’s your Cācā.
DoB: September 20th, 1994 (20)
PoB: Margao, Goa; India
Other Nationality: Portuguese
Position: Deep-Lying Playmaker (Regista), Attacking Midfielder, Advanced Playmaker, Trequartista, Inside Forward
Preferred Foot: Right
Club: Mumbai City (Indian Super League)
Development Academy: Fransa-Pax, Velsao Pale SC, Goa United Football Academy, Salgaocar & ASD Cape Town
Previous Clubs: Salt Water Blackpool, Sporting Clube de Goa
Caps & Goals: N/A (Indian u/14, u/17 & u/20 International)