One always has some nice anecdotes to hear when it comes to football and footballers – sometimes, it’s an unheard story of a player or a tantalising tale of a team rising from the ashes.
Newly-appointed India U-23 National Team coach Derrick Pereira has a coincidental but fascinating connection with the Tilak Maidan in Goa where the youngsters are preparing for the forthcoming AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers.
The 56-year-old coach started his playing career with Mangor Sports Club (Vasco) when he was just 15 years old. After playing for the Vasco-based club for two years, he got a call-up from Mundvel Club who were regulars in the Goa Senior Division League.
Within one year, Pereira got his first professional contract from none other than Salgaocar FC before he blew out the 18th year candle. Thereafter, he got his coaching credentials and now has been appointed as the U-23 Head Coach, one can only wonder the importance of Tilak Maidan in his life.
“Even I couldn’t believe it first when I came to know that practice sessions will be held at the Tilak Maidan for this camp. My professional playing career started here, even my first coaching (National stage) session I took here and now our first National team assignment too. It’s a nice coincidence, I must say and I’ll relive it always,” Pereira shared.
“After playing for Mangor and Mundvel for three years, it was really great, especially, for a 17-year-old boy like me to get a contract from Salgaocar. During the days in Mangor, we used to play at the Tilak Maidan only,” Pereira recalled.
On being asked about his first match, he rattled, “It was in January 1981 and the match was against Vasco. I was a little nervous thinking about playing at the Tilak Maidan again, that too against Vasco. Unfortunately, I miscalculated an aerial ball in the 10th minute and got a deep cut on my forehead. Coach didn’t think twice to replace me.”
After hanging his boots in 1999, he started assisting Norbert Gonsalves who was the coach of Salgaocar U19 team. Then, after a short stint with the Goa U-21 team as the team manager, he was offered the coaching role of Vasco Sports Club. And from there, as they say, the rest is history.
“I say, it was nothing but God’s plan for me. Peter Vales took me as the team manager to Dumka (Jharkhand) with the Goa U21 team. After coming back, Vasco offered me to coach their team for a week. I didn’t think twice before saying yes and there started my coaching career, that too at the very Tilak Maidan,” Pereira took a walk down the memory lane gleefully.
After qualifying for the National Football League from the Second Division in the 2000-01 season, Pereira continued with Vasco Sports Club for 5 years before taking up the reins of the star-studded Mahindra United in 2005. 19 years after starting his coaching career, the former international defender has been provided with his first-ever national team assignment to take the U-23 boys to the first-ever continental championship finals.
“After 15-20 years, it’ll be an interesting tale to share with my grandchildren, I must say,” Pereira said while he burst out in laughter, “Probably, it was something which God had planned for me beforehand. I have grown at this ground and now, it’s great to have the training sessions here before the Asian Championship.”
The India U-23 contingent will play a friendly match against Qatar U23 National Team in Doha on March 11, 2019.