"We are confident that we can turn things around" - Sahil Tavora ahead of Hyderabad FC's first home game

Sahil Tavora in action for Hyderabad FC in the Durand Cup this year. (PC: Twitter)
Sahil Tavora in action for Hyderabad FC in the Durand Cup this year. (PC: Twitter)

Sahil Tavora is one of the few players who has seen the birth of Hyderabad FC and stayed in the city since its inception.

The Panaji-born midfielder, who is one of the midfield engines at the club, has played critical roles for the Yellow and Blacks in their meteoric rise to the top after the dismal start to their ISL career in the 2019-20 edition.

Hyderabad went on to script history by winning the league in just their third year of existence (2021-22), and Tavora, of course, had a major role to play in that as well.

In the final played against Kerala Blasters at the Fatorda Stadium in Margao, Tavora came on as a substitute in the second half and found the back of the net in the 88th minute to negate Rahul KP's opening strike for the Blasters.

The game, of course, went to penalties, and Hyderabad won it quite convincingly. In an exclusive interaction with Sportskeeda, Tavora comes off as urbane and sophisticated and quite a good conversationalist.

Not for nothing, he is often referred to as the 'thinking man's footballer' in Hyderabad's football circles. Understated yet composed, Tavora's demeanor leaves little for the interviewer to wonder about.

Named as one of the captains of the club this season, Tavora has deservedly made his way into the leadership group of the Nawabs.

Hyderabad, meanwhile, are preparing to take on southern rivals Chennaiyin FC at the Maidaan in Gachibowli on 23 October after the international break. Tavora talks about what the mood in the camp is like after the two opening losses (to East Bengal and Jamshedpur).

Here are some of the excerpts from the interview:

Q. First of all, many congratulations on starting a new season with Hyderabad FC. How does it feel to be one of those few players who have been at the club since its inception?

Tavora: Thank you. It feels great to have been a part of this club since its inception. I think I have made a lot of connections at the club. There are also a lot of good memories, starting with the lows of the first season and then the 2021-22 season when we won the title. I have also formed a lot of friendships here.

Q. Was it difficult to digest the two early losses this season? How is your training in the international break going on?

Tavora: It was quite challenging to digest those two losses as we had played really well in both games. However, we have gone back to the drawing board and tried to analyze where we went wrong. We are not working on anything in particular per se, but hoping to gel better as a group. We are a new team, and I am confident that we can turn things around.

Q. How does it feel to be working under a new coaching group? What has Conor Nestor brought to the club?

Tavora: It is quite different for sure. We had worked under the same coach (Manolo Marquez) for three years and knew instinctively what he wanted from us.

So, it has been a challenge to adapt to what the new coach (Conor Nestor) asks from us. It will take some time for all the players to get on board with his ideas. We need to be patient, but with time, we will get the desired results.

Sahil Tavora in action in the Durand Cup against Tribhuwan Army. (PC: Twitter)
Sahil Tavora in action in the Durand Cup against Tribhuwan Army. (PC: Twitter)

Q. How is the environment at the club? How has it been linking up with the players who were signed this season?

Tavora: The environment is really good at the club. A lot of the Indian players have remained here whereas we have said goodbye to some of the foreigners.

It has been great fun linking up with the new players and to see the way they go about their business.

We are a new team - in a sort of transition period - and with every passing week, we are learning more and more about each other on and off the field.

Q. You are known as one of the midfield engines of Hyderabad. Do you prefer playing box-to-box or as a holding midfielder?

Tavora: Actually, I am comfortable playing in both positions (box-to-box and holding). In the last few years, I have played more as a holding midfielder for Hyderabad and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

I have no qualms about playing in either position but really enjoy doing the dirty work for the team, so to speak, in the holding midfielder's spot. As long as I am on the field, I am willing to do anything the coach asks me to do.

Q. You took a leap of faith when you went to play in Portugal in 2018-19. Can you tell us something about your time there? How did your experience playing for Alvarenga shape you as a person and a footballer?

Tavora: I was just 22 when I went to Portugal and played the season there. I think Alvarenga really helped me in both the mental and physical aspects of the game. It was quite challenging for me to be away from home on my own.

I played a lot of games there, so that helped me. It has shaped me a lot as a player on the field and as a man off it, that is for sure. I have learnt a lot from my experiences in Portugal.

Sahil Tavora (holding the ball) joking around with Petteri Pennanen and Vignesh Dakshinamurthy in training.
Sahil Tavora (holding the ball) joking around with Petteri Pennanen and Vignesh Dakshinamurthy in training.

Q. What was the biggest difference between the footballing cultures of Portugal and India? Did you find it easier to adapt there as you come from Goa?

Tavora: It was a little easy for me since I speak Portuguese. This helped me adapt well there. There was a huge culture shock for me as everyone is mad about football there.

Football there is perhaps like how cricket is in our country. Kids want to kick a ball as soon as they learn how to walk. There is a big difference in culture but I enjoyed it a lot. People take football extremely seriously there.

Q. You are often referred fondly as Mr. 88. Take us back to that special goal against Kerala Blasters in the final of the 2021-22 season. What was going through your mind when the ball landed at your feet?

Tavora: (Chuckles) I often get asked about this goal although it has been about a year and a half since it happened. I came on in the 71st minute, a few moments after Rahul KP had scored for them.

Usually, I don't really score a lot of goals because of my positioning on the pitch but I felt that at that moment, I had a good shot. The ball fell to my feet and I thought, 'Gee, I am going to have a go here.'

Thankfully, it went into the right spot, and the rest is history. I think it will be quite tough for me - as someone who does not score a lot of goals - to better that one. It is a memory that is forever etched in my heart.

Q. What do you do in your time away from football? Do you have any other hobbies?

Tavora: Well, I am a big football nut, so in my free time, I listen to podcasts from other footballers or coaches at the top level to get to know about their experiences.

I try to look for new insights or learnings that I can take away from them and implement in my own game. Apart from that, I like to spend time with my friends and family whenever I have some downtime.

Q. The city of Hyderabad has been very kind towards you. What are your thoughts on the city and its people?

Tavora: Hyderabad is a fantastic city and I absolutely love it here. It is a city that has grown on me over the last couple of years.

It has a lot of nice restaurants and shopping centres - that is usually where I go on my days off. The people here are very nice and the fans are extremely supportive. I thoroughly enjoy myself here.

Q. After a disappointing start to the season, is the team ready to fight back on the 23rd?

Tavora: Yes, the start has not been good for us. But the next game is at home (against Chennaiyin FC on 23 October) and we will do everything within our power to get some points on the board and kickstart our season. We know that we are capable of turning things around; it is just a matter of time.

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