India's Raju Eknath Gaikwad (R) challeng

The ‘Rory Delap’ of India, Raju Gaikwad is certainly one of the top center backs in the country, plying his trade for Indian Giants East Bengal. Starting his professional career with Pailan Arrows, after graduating through the famed Tata Football Academy, Raju is lauded much for mastering the art of resolute no-nonsense defending. Signing subsequently for Indian Powerhouses East Bengal, after two years at Pailan Arrows, Raju has also been instrumental in the National Team’s success ,leading the men in blue to a SAFF Cup in 2011 and a Nehru Cup in 2012. After winning the Federation Cup with East Bengal in 2012, Raju along-with the rest of the Red and Yellow brigade looked unstoppable for the 2013/14 season. However fate did not smile upon them as East Bengal would go on to defeat to be I-league Champions Bengaluru FC, in their two fixtures, but fail to conquer the coveted trophy, throughout the course of the season.

“Football is a team sport. You cannot blame the defense alone for a failed campaign. Defense could not be the sole bearer for a bad scoreline, there are various factors at play. Yes, We could have been a little more tighter and compact in the latter half of the season, but nonetheless it was a good campaign” said Raju, in an interview with The Hard Tackle’s Joseph Solomon

Playing his part to perfection, in a defensive line which conceded 23 goals in the yester season, the fewest in I-League, he was consequently picked by Ranbir Kapoor co-owned Mumbai City Franchisee, wherein he would ply his trade alongside national team mates Syed Nabi and Subrata Pal.

“It feels like I’ve known Mumbai since ages, I already have Syed and Subrata from the Nation Team Setup, so it actually feels like home” he says

“To be honest we are a family, not a team. We are so closely knit that we could star in the next edition of 300-the feature film” he jokes

Mumbai City has already boasted a good looking squad by signing the likes of Manuel Friedrich, Ilias Pollalis and Pavel Cmovs.

Talking about his upcoming and recent experiences with the defensive trio, Raju comments “ Surprisingly, my best friend is Manuel Friedrich, he is a superb guy to be with. Though he has a lot of experience and playing in Europe, he never makes us feel small, he is always humble and smiling. I’ve never seen him without a smile. Obviously ill learn a lot from his company.”

The Eight Franchisees will all compete in a league based tournament scheduled to kick off on the 12th of October. Mumbai City FC will play away to Atletico de Kolkata in their opening fixture.

“We Want to win it, its that simple. We have a dedicated director, who gives more than his 100% to the team. Also there is the added motivation of an ardent fan like Ranbir Kapoor himself. His interest and enthusiasm towards the team, is seen by us almost everyday.” comments Raju, when inquired about his teams chances of winning the league.

“ I am equally excited and optimistic to be a part of Indian Super League, just like any other fan. It will obviously capture our imagination, however there is this entire theory of the I-League taking a backseat because of ISL, but it is my personal opinion that ISL will revolutionize the way we look at football. It will make football a part of our lives and this head start could very well help the I League” says an energetic Raju, who will be one of the centrifugal Center Backs, in the array of defenders, for Mumbai.

Though a humble and a simple personality, Raju Gaikwad is a hungry tactical defender when it comes to the beautiful game. With the amount of experience and class he is exposed too, Raju is certainly going to develop into a much better, tactically aware and polished defenders throughout the course of this three-month long season.