When a pack of wolves travel, they keep their most able, trusted and fierce members at the front and at the back. The same can be said of a football team. While it is usually the strikers who are the subject of people’s admiration and adulation, there is a group of players who silently go about their business, almost backstage staffish in their conduct.
These are the defenders, the final line of defence in front of goal and pretty much the building blocks of any team. The Indian national football team has seldom produced defenders of note but every now and then there have emerged players of such quality and pedigree that it is worth our while to make a trip down memory lane and rejig our memories.
Here we take a look at the top five Indian defenders to have ever graced a football field.
5) Mahesh Gawli
A product of the Tata Football Academy, Goa’s Gawli began playing football at the age of 8 and quickly rose through the ranks to make his international debut at the tender age of 19 in a pre-Olympic qualifier game against Thailand.
The centre back never looked back and steadily amassed a massive 91 appearances for the senior national team until announcing a somewhat premature retirement in 2011. His playing career has been decorated with awards and honours including multiple I-League and National Football League titles with various clubs and four consecutive best defender of the I-League awards from 2004-05 to the 2007-08 season.
But the ones that Gawli and surely all Indians will be most proud of are the twin Nehru Cup triumphs for India in 2007 and 2009. It is also most fitting that Gawli played no small part in these wins, turning in probably the best performance of his international career in the 2007 Nehru Cup final, so much so that he ended up winning the man of the match award for his troubles.
PS: It cannot hurt an Indian footballer’s case if the only goal of his international playing career comes in an away game at a stadium in Pakistan!