From ISL final to courier boy: How Milagres Gonsalves' journey highlights India's seasonal football problem
Indian football fans might have heard of Milagres Gonsalves, the Goan forward who was one of Kerala Blasters' better forwards in the inaugural Indian Super League season in 2014. Having played 13 games throughout the first ISL season, Gonsalves didn't appear in the final against Atletico de Kolkata that Kerala eventually lost.
Milagres played 811 minutes in ISL-1 scoring one goal, and the then 27-year-old was tipped for big things.
However, things haven't gone to plan for the man from Tiswadi ever since. The former Salgaocar man hasn't played in the ISL ever since his bow in the league's first season. He has now moved to England, but not to further his career as a footballer.
The ISL has been widely seen as bringing about the money revolution in Indian football. Cash-rich franchises now offer multi-crore deals to Indian footballers, let alone stars from abroad. That said, the Indian Super League has also seen the downfall of many an Indian footballer.
Gonsalves now works in a courier company over in England. The player from Goa is the prime example of the malaise that has afflicted Goan football ever since the advent of the ISL. Big clubs like Salgaocar, Sporting Clube de Goa and Dempo have pulled out of India's top division leagues in the past few years after the ISL started, suggesting that not all is well with Indian football despite what is being shown.
"There is nothing left for footballers in Goa anymore. The salaries on offer are meagre and nothing like what used to be in the past," the player was quoted as saying to TOI.
While the ISL continues to raise the bar as far as player salaries are concerned, Indian football already saw players like former India internationals Climax Lawrence and Clifford Miranda earn upwards of 1 crore in salary before the ISL started. The influx of money in Indian football is not a new phenomenon as many would think, but what Milagres' situation highlights is that Indian football is still not an even ground, three years after the start of the ISL.
While backup goalkeepers like Arindam Bhattacharya earn deals touching the 1 crore mark, the situation of players like Milagres is dire at best. With the likes of Dempo, Salgaocar and Sporting Clube de Goa presently fighting it out in the backwaters of the local Goan league, Goan footballers have found it difficult to earn contracts with clubs that compete in the highest levels of Indian football: ISL and I-League.
As things stand, FC Goa in the ISL and Churchill Brothers in the I-League are the only Goan representatives in India's top divisions. A lack of opportunities in the most marketable Indian leagues has been costing Goan footballers dear, as has been the case with Milagres.
According to the ISL, 29 Goan players were drafted in by ten clubs during last Sunday's domestic draft, but what about the other Goan footballers? Are there only 29 players in Goa who have the talent to play in the top Indian leagues?
This highlights the current problem with Indian football that the disparity in earnings is too big. What caused Milagres to move out to India to explore alternate means of earning a living was explained by the player himself. "I was in Goa last month and inquired with the clubs if there was an opening. The clubs need players but they are offering a pittance," he added.
In 2015, Milagres was set a salary of 24 lakhs for four months only to be not picked up by any ISL club and ended up joining Mumbai FC - an I-League club - for a salary of 4 lakhs per year. The situation hasn't changed even today, leaving players like Milagres out in the cold.
Indian football is currently riding the crest of the wave of the national team's leap in the FIFA rankings as well as the growth of the ISL as the premier football league in the country. But the fate of players like the one-season wonder Milagres continues to confound as Indian football is quite a while away from running out of such stories of wasted talent. Indian football's problems have not subsided with the rise of the ISL and cases like Milagres serve to highlight that.