Augustin Fernandes: 'Winning the SAFF Cup is one of the memories I will cherish for a lifetime'
- Augustin Fernandes talks about his days at Salgaocar, playing under Antonio López Habas and winning the SAFF Cup.
- The defender joined the famed SESA Football Academy in Goa before signing a professional contract with Salgaocar FC.
Born in the football-mad state of Goa, Augustin Fernandes was quick to pick up the sport. The burly defender joined the famed SESA Football Academy in Sanquelim before signing a professional contract with Salgaocar SC in 2011. The 31-year-old spent five years donning the emerald green jersey of the club.
The centre-back then got his big break in 2015 when he made his senior debut for the Indian national team after coming on as a substitute against Guam in a FIFA World Cup Qualifier. He went on to start for India in the SAFF Cup final against Afghanistan which the Blue Tigers won, courtesy of an extra-time goal by Sunil Chhetri in January 2016.
Augustin Fernandes opened up about his journey in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda. Here are the excerpts from the interview:
Q: You started your playing career with Salgaocar and made around 100 appearances for them. How was that journey?
Augustin: My time with Salgaocar is always going to be special. I’m grateful to the club for having invested their faith and trust in me by helping me come this far today. There was a time I had a few offers to play elsewhere for good money, but my heart was always with Salgaocar as it was home for me. We won some major trophies in those years and I have been fortunate to have relived some good and some not-so-good experiences while playing with the club. Those experiences have only helped me to evolve into a better player and professional today.
Q: Salgaocar pulled themselves out of the I-League after the 2015-16 season. Apart from FC Goa and Churchill Brothers, there are no Goan clubs in the first three tiers of India. Do you think this limits the growth of players in that region considering the talent they possess?
Goa is one big hub of football and the pool of talent here is huge. Apart from Salgaocar, Dempo and Sporting (Clube de Goa) also offered a lot of opportunities for young Goan players to perform at the big stage.
Considering the talent, the state does not offer enough opportunities to local players and, in a way, it is a loss to Goan and Indian football. If there are more teams, it will provide aspiring footballers with improved platforms, which could benefit Indian football in the long run.
Q: Despite playing as a defender, you have scored a lot of goals in your playing career. Did it ever bother you that you never played upfront?
My main job as a defender is to make sure we don’t concede. However, whenever I can, I go up and try to score. I don’t wait behind. Rather, I try my best to capitalise on the opportunity to make it count.
Q: You partnered with Adil Khan at SESA, who has now established himself as a regular centre-back in the Indian team. Can you describe your playing experience with him?
I’m very happy for Adil, who has come back so strong after so many setbacks. He has risen above all obstacles and is now competing at the highest level. He has always been a warrior and a leader both on and off the pitch. We had a very good partnership during my time at SESA. I still remember we won everything that year. It was something very special at that age and we had a good and memorable season together.
Q: You won the 2015 SAFF Cup. I believe it was your first international trophy. How did you feel about it?
When I was a kid, I never thought I would represent India one day. It was a dream to represent my country and winning the SAFF Cup is one of the memories I will cherish for a lifetime. The feeling was incredible and so overwhelming that I can proudly say it was one of the greatest feelings I could experience. It was always a dream to someday play and win something for my country. It’s priceless and I’m lucky to be a part of that winning team.
Q: You have played under Antonio López Habas in 2015 and 2016. As a coach, how is he different from the rest of the coaches?
I have been fortunate to have played under very good coaches who have ultimately helped me evolve both as a human being and a player. Antonio López Habas always had my back at Atletico de Kolkata and FC Pune City. His approach towards the game is unbelievable and he knows how to bring out the best in a player. He is very positive, enthusiastic, supportive and demanding and his approach is the same with everyone. To him, no one is superior.
Q: With the five foreigners’ rule of ISL, coaches use it to deploy an extra foreign centre-back. Do you think this is hurting the chances of Indian players who play in that position?
Honestly, the tougher the battle, the sweeter the victory. I feel a player needs to make sure he is giving his hundred percent. He has to stay focused and fight for his place in the team.
Q: Who is the best centre-back you have worked with in your career?
This one is hard to pick as I have played alongside so many good centre-backs over the years. But if I must pick one, it will be Sandesh Jhingan with whom I have been fortunate to play a few games for the country.
Q: How would you summarise your time in Jamshedpur FC?
I joined Jamshedpur FC in the January transfer window last year. I stay grateful to the club who gave me the opportunity after being out for almost a year. All in all, my time in Jamshedpur was good and I thank everyone who made it happen.
Q: What are your plans for the next season? Do you have any message for young footballers in India who want to make it big?
Currently, I’m focused on staying fit in the best condition. I'm looking forward to a good experience of playing regular football. For the youngsters, my message would be to never give up, make sure you keep believing and keep working hard to follow your dreams.
Published 18 Apr 2020, 18:19 IST