A solid rock in the defense for East Bengal, whilst leading a defensive line which conceded the minimum amount of goals in the I league yester seaon, Raju Eknath Gaikwad has been consistent performer, for his club and country. After earning praises and appreciation for his dominating style of play, Raju Gaikwad was subsequently called up for the friendlies against Palestine.

“Yes, my opinion might sound biased, but i think when the Indian Team, clicks as a unit, we are very difficult to beat. Palestine are the AFC Champions so obviously, it would not be a cakewalk for us. Their ‘champions’ tag does not intimidate us, but we know we have to work hard.” said Raju, in a recent interaction with The Hard Tackle’s Joseph Solomon

India lost 4-2 against Palestine last time around, in a fixture which exposed the defensive problems in the Indian Lineup.

“New players have been selected and also there are the first team regulars. Yes we lost, 4-2 against Palestine, but now its Revenge Time. We will do everything to pull off a win against them” comments Raju, who is expected to start alongside club partner and friend, Arnab Mondal.

While the Defensive Duo of Mondal and Gaikwad, would be starting for the nation, their fellow club-mates would be high on the recent Calcutta League win.

“It is always a great feeling when East Bengal win, another trophy makes us even more happy. The most important thing was that 14 of our players were into The Indian Super League, yet Coach Armando harnessed the youth policy and transformed the youngsters, to perform at their level best. With this, i can say that, the future of East Bengal is in very safe hands”

Raju Gaikwad was also picked by the Ranbir Kapoor co-owned franchisee. He would star with a number of Indian first team regulars, like Subrata Pal. Mumbai City play their first match, away from home against Atletico de Kolkata.

“Atletico de Kolkata is a strong team, as they have amounted wins against teams from Spain. On the contrary, i think that we are equally good and the best part about us is the squad balance and squad bonding. We have also played a lot of friendlies and have accustomed to the manager’s philosophy.Moreover, i have many colleagues from East Bengal at Atletico de Kolkata, so perhaps i can share secrets of the trade with the Mumbai Squad” he laughs.

With the second Indian friendly against Palestine, being cancelled due to reasons. The players would be returning to their native ISL clubs, sooner than expected.

“I personally feel that we should be playing more friendlies against tops side, as playing against better and stronger opponents, makes you better. It also helps you get back on to the drawing board, introspect your weakness and work on them, and ultimately increase the level of your game.”  commented Raju.

At a mere age of 24, perhaps Raju Gaikwad is one the best Central Defenders present in the Indian Game. Energetic, Tactical, and hunger to win the ball, defines him as a strong link in the Indian Back four. Expected to start against Palestine, he is also known as the ‘Rory Delap‘ of Indian football, which justifies his long throwing style.