ISL 2018-19: "I don't believe anyone can motivate you if you are not motivated yourself," says FC Goa star Seriton Fernandes
Seriton Fernandes is a full-back presently playing for FC Goa in the Indian Super League. He has been an integral part of Sergio Lobera's team since joining in 2017. So far this term, the 26-year-old has recorded nine appearances and two assists for the Gaurs, owing to the fast-paced, attacking philosophy of the side.
Fernandes started his youth career at Dempo Sports Club, before switching to Churchill Brothers FC in 2015. After short stints at Sporting Goa and Churchill Brothers (for a second time), he moved to the ISL last season.
Quick across the ground, sharp with his tackling and a right back who possesses excellent delivery, Seriton Fernandes is one of the brightest prospects in Indian football.
We caught up with him for an exclusive chat and he lifted the lid on his personal career, challenges, FC Goa and the ISL. Here's all that he had to say.
Q: This is your second season with FC Goa. What's different this time?
I thought we did well as a team last season and therefore I don’t think the club wanted to change much. The core of the club remains intact from last season and as a result, we are continuing to play good football. The results have so far been good so the mood in the camp is good as well.
Q: Has Sergio Lobera changed any style from the previous season?
Again, as I said, the core remains same. We know each other much better so you can say it has become easier for us because we know the strengths and weaknesses much better.
We’ve had a few new players come into the team as reinforcements with Jacki, Nirmal and Lenny providing depth to the squad this season. Mandar has adapted well to a new position and Edu is also playing much higher this season.
So, there have been minor tweaks here and there but we largely knew the blueprint ever since our pre-season training in Spain and we continue to be on the same track.
Q: When you moved from Churchill to FC Goa (made the shift from I-League from ISL), did you notice a change in the level of football? What was it and how difficult was it to adapt to it? Point out some of the differences.
One big difference for me was my playing position. I have moved to a more permanent role at the back but within coach’s scheme of things, I have the freedom to move forward quite a bit. That’s something I quite enjoy.
Another big thing that has changed is the responsibility. We play our game as a collective so there’s a lot of trust and faith placed on each other and movements on and off the ball become key. Therefore it becomes each player's responsibility to ensure he is timing his movements well to appear in space and keep the ball moving forward.
In terms of the level of the game, I feel that the ISL is just more complete. The facilities and the preparation of the game are much more complete. There are more people watching and you are playing in a very professional surrounding. And you have to step up as well.
In terms of gameplay, with Sergio Lobera, the style is really different. At my previous clubs, it was a more direct way of playing. Here the coach stresses on things like keeping possession, keeping composure on the ball and playing between the lines. More than being difficult, it has been a real learning experience for me. At least that’s how I look at it.
Q: You have previously said missing out on the squad for the Lusofonia Games hurt you badly. Can you talk about that time and what exactly transpired? How did it affect you mentally?
Yes, it hurt me bad. But that is natural. I thought I had a good chance of making the squad but the selectors didn’t agree with me.
Looking back at it now, it’s a big turning point in my career. I moved to Laxmi Prasad where I found a lot of playing time. It helped me get moves to Sporting and Churchill. Eventually, that led me to FC Goa here.
Q: You are a full-back but given you are playing for FC Goa, it means you are mostly operating as a winger because the team believes in attacking for goals. How do you keep your defensive duties in mind? Do the central defenders have to call you back sometimes and tell you who to mark when you join the attack? Talk us through the smaller things we don't see on TV.
As you said and I have said before, I am given a lot of freedom to overlap down the right. That comes with a lot of responsibilities. You have to know when to go forward and when to fall back. That depends on which side there is space.
One big thing is that we always have four men behind the ball. And as a team, we always keep that in mind at all points of the game when making a run forward or someone from the other side of the pitch makes a run.
Q: One simple question - Why do FC Goa concede so many goals?
I think we have been a lot better at the back this season. I know people want to look at stats and say we only have one clean sheet but if you see the game against Chennaiyin and Kerala, the game was beyond doubt before we conceded in the game. It is not an excuse as we know we have to fight till the last whistle but it is what it is.
If you look on the holistic side, as our coach has said time and again, we would love to win 5-2 rather than 1-0. And we strive to play football in the vein that our coach wants us to. We play a brand that is attacking and sometimes leaves gaps at the back but we try our best to fulfil them.
We look at goal difference more than clean sheets if you want me to be honest and we have the best right now. So I would say we are doing pretty well in regards to what needs to be done. There is, of course always room for improvement.
Q: Following up to that, does it bring down the team morale when Coro and others score so many goals but you end up conceding anyway and they have to start scoring all over again.
As I said, we have a philosophy. Our fullbacks act as wingers and contribute to goals as well. The wingers who help us track back become forwards as well. We take accountability of everything as a whole.
Q: FC Goa is not new to coming back from being a goal down. When you are down by a goal or two, what's the mentality of the players?
We believe that our greatest strength is our style of football. That so far has yielded us good results. And that doesn’t change whether we are three goals up or one goal down.
Q: What does the coach tell you after you go down by a goal? Does he say it doesn't matter, score two against them? Or does he ask you all to play cautiously?
We go into every game with a view of winning it. Even when we are leading, we look to build on the lead. That, I feel should answer your question.
Q. When has Lobera been the angriest during the half-time talk? And what did he say?
He was pretty angry during the half-time at Delhi and rightly so. We had not been up to the mark and he made us aware of it. We needed to apply ourselves more and that is what happened in the second half.
He told us that wearing that jersey meant that we had a responsibility. All the spectators had paid to come see us. He told us go out there and show them that we care, that wearing the FC Goa jersey is a thing of pride. It was something that really got us going in that game.
Q. What made you take up football? Is it because you grew up in a neighbour in Goa which is crazy about the game?
I just wanted to become a footballer for as long as I can remember. I never had any other dream. No one needed to come and inspire me.
Q. What's the fondest memory from your childhood related to football - it can be scoring against a bigger team while playing for your school or anything else.
More than scoring goals it is still running with the ball in my backyard. The sense of pure bliss that you get as a kid with a ball at his feet is something.
In the days to come, I would go on to score in nearly every possible game in the local tournaments. I was the star there. Everyone loved me. That feeling is something.
Q. What do your parents do? What are their names?
My father’s name is Paulo. My mother’s name is Anna. My mother is a housewife. My father is an active politician. (Chuckles) People once thought I got a chance to play for FC Goa because my father is a politician.
Q. Any siblings? Their names and what do they do?
I have a sister. She is married.
Q. Who has been the biggest influence in your life and why?
My father. He has always had my back. Even during times I felt unsure as to whether I could really make it as a footballer, he held my hand.
Q. Who has been the biggest motivator in your life and why?
I believe that would be myself. I don’t believe anyone can motivate you if you are not motivated yourself.
Q. Through the Lusofonia disappointment, who has stuck with you and how important are they in your life? How did they help battle that phase and restart football?
At that point of time, my family stuck by me; especially my father. He has been immense in my life. He has seen me cry and seen me laugh. And I am here because he always had belief in me.