He represented India at the U-19 and U-21 level earning the reputation of being a formidable midfielder with accurate passing. Now, at Dempo, he hopes to carry on the legacy of the club’s free-flowing game.
TheHardTackle’s correspondent Jonathan De Sousa met up with Dempo midfielder Godwin Diogo Franco to speak on his life as a footballer, his life at Dempo and his vision for Indian football.
What drove you to football and made you choose it over other sports?
Football was always there in my family. My father too was a very good player.
Did your father play at state level?
He got injured. He was a very good player in school but unfortunately he got injured which put an end to his dreams of playing competitive football. He played at the college level too but could not continue due to injuries. He was a very good player in school (St. Anthony’s High School, Monte de Guirim)
So, your parents played a big role in you becoming a footballer?
Yes, they were instrumental in me becoming a footballer. It was there genetically in me. Football ran through my family. As a kid, I grew up playing football. It was God’s gift to me. I’m grateful to God for giving me that talent.
You represented India in U-19 and U-21 tournaments. How was the experience there?
It was a very good experience. We had very good players at U-19 and also at U-21 level. In both the tournaments that we played, we did very well.
Who were your teammates who represented India with you?
At U-19, there was Subrata Paul, Gourmangi Singh, Debabrata Roy, Rochus Lamare were all with me in these tournaments.
And what about your coaches at that time?
Stephen Constantine was our coach at U-19 level and at U-21, there was a Portuguese coach, Rui Pedro.
So, they taught you the basics of football?
Yes, you could say that. But I was at Sesa Academy at a young age. I was fortunate to have good coaches at a young age who taught me the basics very well.
You started off with Churchill, then moved to Sporting. How were those two years?
Yes, I started off with Churchill. It was my first big club. I did very well for them. I was very fortunate to play along side wonderful players like Yusif Yakubu, Osumanu Hussein, Marcos Pereira, Noel Wilson, Rocky Barreto, Aqueel Ansari, Somatai Shaiza.
How old were you at that time?
I was 18 then. The following year I started playing regularly for them. I played U-19 i-League also for Churchill but was also with the senior team. I played local tournaments, as well. That helped me improve as a player. The next year I started playing full fledged. I was regularly playing the I-league matches, Federation Cup, Goa League etc. I played everything at the age of 19. The experience was very good.
Sporting also was a very good experience. Again, we had very good players. Dudu Omagbhemi was there, who was one of the best foreigners at that time before he left for foreign shores. It was a good team and we did very well. It was a good experience.
You had a very bad bike accident when you were at Sporting.
Yes, I had a very bad accident when I was at Sporting. But I’m totally healed now and I’m grateful to God for that. God brought me back.
How did you motivate yourself to come back from injury? We see many players today who get dejected when they get injured. What would be your advice to them?
You have to just keep faith in God, pray to God and follow the instructions of the doctor. Do your physiotherapy properly. Now we have the best doctors. Even Luis Ronaldo said once that when you get an injury you come back better than before. And that has been the case with me. Everything becomes stronger again. You become hungry to achieve success and that motivates you.
Your big break came when you were with Derrick and Pune FC. How was the feeling to play for them in their debut season?
Playing at Pune FC was a very good experience under coach Derrick. He guided and motivated me a lot. I played all the matches for them and produced consistent and very good performances. Again, I had very good players around me. Me and Douhou played in midfield. Subrata Paul was in goal. Venkatesh was there. Arata, Edmar, Sergey Tokov, Chika Wali were brilliant that season. Even Selwyn also had a good season in defense. All this helped a lot. It was a dream debut season for us.
How is the management like in Pune? They are much more professional than some Goan clubs.
Management is very good. Chirag Tanna Head of Operations encourages all the players. The owners too are also very passionate about football. They take note of everything happening at the club. They get a daily report of all the things that happen. They know about each and every player, how he is performing, how many goals he scored etc.
And marketing wise also they are stand out performers.
Yes, they do a lot in merchandising.
Okay let me come to life at Dempo now. How has the first year at Dempo been?.
Year was very good. I’m very thankful to God first and then to coach Armando for bringing me here and encouraging me. Even though I came into the team which had the best midfielders like Beto, Kalu, Climax, Peter, the coach always told me to keep on practicing, keep on training and just keep working hard. I played in the final few games of the season regularly. So I’m very happy. Me and Climax played the last few games of the i-League in midfield. They were happy with my performance and I did a very good job. I’m very glad that I came into this team. It is the best team in India with the best players and I’m very happy that I got to play in such a great team.
How do you compare the two styles – Pune and Dempo? In Pune, Derrick played the long-ball system, while here at Dempo it is the short passing game.
Only Dempo plays this style of football- passing football like Barcelona. It is every footballer’s dream to play such kind of football. It is like the Goan style of football. That was one of the reasons why I came here because I identified with their style of play. In Pune, no doubt, they have a different style of play. Most of the clubs in India play that kind of football. But only here in Dempo we play the passing game which is very good to watch, very pleasing to the eye and the players just enjoy themselves.
Here the management and the coach are so supportive. They allow you to express yourself freely and be yourself. Coach has always been motivating and encouraging me and always guiding me. At every moment, he supports the players. He never makes you feel left out. For him, all the players are the same. Even sometimes when you’re not playing in the team he always keeps you motivated which is very important. Man management is vital and Armando is wonderful at that. I’m just very thankful to him.
How was it to play in Asia this year?
That was another reason why I came to this great club, because of the chance to play at the continental level. Dempo’s side are the best in India and it was my dream to play for them. We first played in the AFC Champions League qualifying against Al Sadd of Qatar. I played the final few minutes in that game. We put in a very good performance even though we lost 2-0. That team had three world cup players, all three of them played in the 2010 WC.
Kader Keita also had played for big clubs in Europe. We really gave a good account of ourselves in that game. Then in the AFC Cup we played extremely well to qualify for the pre-quarterfinals. We lost narrowly in the pre-quarters to Duhok in Iraq losing 1-0. We could have won that game if Beto and Mahesh were playing. Even if the game was played over two ties I’m sure we could have pulled it through. We had a decent campaign.
Overall, this was a great year. We won the Goa Charity Cup, the Super Cup and the Goa League. We came third in the I-League and narrowly missed out. The schedule was also too tough towards the end with four games in six days. Traveling really took a toll on the players. Anyway, I’m happy that we all gave our best till the end.
Coming to Indian football, everyone asks this question, when India will qualify for the World Cup. What do you think is lacking?
I’m sure one day it will happen. Once upon a time, India were a powerhouse in world football. I’m sure India will get back there soon. We are on the right track now. Everything is improving in Indian football. FIFA’s eyes are on Indian football because the market is here with a population of 2 billion people. We are the country that watches the Football World Cup most on TV. Even European football is followed so much over here.
When there is so much keen interest in football here, Indian football will gradually go up. Dempo reached the semi-finals of the AFC Cup a few years back, we played the Asia Cup this year, which shows that Indian football has the potential to succeed. I’m sure we’ll come back strongly and gradually everything will fall in place.
If you were to list three things which can be done to improve Indian football, what would they be?
I think we just need to modulate according to the European League. I think this one thing incorporates all aspects. Broadcasting, marketing and everything else should be done on the lines of European Leagues. Gradually, things will fall in place. Teams have to build their own stadiums. The AFC is coming with the club licensing criteria. Things can’t change overnight. Rome was not built in a day. Gradually teams are changing and Indian football is looking brighter. Even the Cooperage ground is being refurbished now. Dempo are building their own stadium. All other clubs too are in the process of building their own stadiums.
More corporates need to come into Indian football. The problem in India is that cricket takes not just the first spot, it takes all the ten spots. Then the other sports follow. Hence, all corporates are running into cricket. Once Indian football starts improving, things will look brighter. We just need to organize ourselves according to the European Leagues and gradually things will progress.
Coming to coach Armando. Do you think he’ll make an impact in India?
Definitely, he’ll make an impact. Things just can’t happen overnight. He needs to be given time. His aim is to bring the Dempo pattern of play in the youngsters so that when they come to play for India, they have that passing method fixed in their minds. Many of Dempo’s players are in the India probables. They will try to replicate the Dempo pattern of play there. This will help the other players also fit into that style of play. That is the best way to play football.
His philosophy is simple. If you keep the ball with you, you prevent your opponents from playing. That’s why Barcelona is by far the best team of all time, because they always keep the football with them. If you keep the ball with you and play, you don’t need to defend, the ball is being moved around, space increases and you create more chances to score a goal. Just how he has made an impact at Dempo, he will do the same in Indian team. All he needs is time.
Your thoughts on Dempo’s tie-up with FC Midjtylland?
It is a big boost to Indian football and to the club. Tie-ups with European teams are a very good give-and-take deal. It will help the youth, it will help the team and in the long run it will help Indian football a lot.
You wish it would have happened earlier so that players like you could benefit more?
I don’t think that way. You should always take whatever you get in life.
You think if players like Anthony and Climax had to get proper exposure they would have made it to Europe?
Definitely Indian players can play in Europe. There are so many NRI players and players of Indian origin who play in foreign leagues. Michael Chopra is an example. Even now if Indian youngsters are given proper exposure and groomed properly they can surely play in Europe. I.M Vijayan was one of the best players India has ever seen. If he was taken to Europe at an early age he could have easily played for Real Madrid or Barcelona. He was that good a talent.
Rapid fire rounds:
Best Dempo player at present
I think our whole team is good. Everyone has their strengths.
Best coach you’ve worked under
I’ve had many good coaches but I think Armando Colaco stands out.
Favourite Indian player
Best friend at Dempo
We are all one big family. We have fun together and are very close to each other. No favourites as such.
Zidane and Xavi
Best performance from you this season
Air India match at Fatorda.
Best game that Dempo played this season
Air India game at Fatorda without a doubt. That was one of the best games Dempo have ever played. (Dempo defeated Air India 14-0 to set all kinds of records)
Thanks a lot, Godwin for taking time out and speaking to us!
It was my pleasure.