Mandar Rao Desai is synonymous with FC Goa. Part of the Goan club in the Hero Indian Super League since inception in 2014, Mandar is a name that most Goans can connect with.
The 25-year-old is a fan favourite and is now set to feature in a fifth consecutive season for the Gaurs. His importance in the squad has been underlined with coach Sergio Lobera handing him the captaincy.
The marauding left winger, who can also double up as a wing-back, rejected suggestions that the new responsibility will burden him.
“Every player in our team is a captain on the pitch. They all know their duties and will help me in all matters on and off the pitch. So, handling captaincy will be easier for me,” said Mandar.
Mandar has been a much-improved player since 2014 and he credited players from different nationalities for the transformation.
“People like to see a local player do well. I have always been training very hard. I try to perform what the coach expects from me. This has helped me to develop as a player.
“The senior and international players have helped me a lot. Players from various countries have come to play here and I have picked up something from each one of them,” he said.
The former junior international is yet to win the coveted ISL title with FC Goa, though he came close in 2015 when the hosts were defeated by Chennaiyin FC in the final. The winger admitted that there is pressure from the fans to land the elusive title.
“Goa is a footballing state. And everyone wants us to win the trophy from the first season. We have been trying to do so and we have reached the play-offs quite a few times. But our first target is to be in the top four. We will take it from there,” he said.
The former Dempo winger also credited the ISL for sparking a revolution in terms of grassroots football, having seen a lot of kids take up the sport.
“Football has improved a lot after ISL. A lot of work is being done at the grassroots level. Now I see school kids coming up in large numbers whenever FC Goa hold a camp in any of the schools. It is a welcome change,” said Desai.