When you see the picturesque image of Romeo Fernandes, tearing down the right flank, taking on opposing defenders and beating them at will, it is almost impossible to conclude that the 22 year old was suffering from ‘problems’ when he started his career.

Born in the riverside village of Assolna, Goa, a young Romeo suffered from financial trouble, in his early days. When Romeo was still sprouting, money became a diminishing commodity. Romeo’s mother took up ‘cooking’ as a means to make ends meet and raise her four children. Third among four siblings, a young Romeo found football as his solace, and ‘dribbling the ball’ became his medium to express thoughts. Nicknamed ‘Abi‘ after his father ,‘Albert’, Romeo became increasingly passionate about football.

In a state, where football is of major importance and can only be matched with the seriousness of church masses, a young Romeo indulged himself into ‘footy’ culture and profited from grass roots football. His captivating tricks with the ball and bombarding running off it, was evidenceAi??of Romeo’s undying passion for football.

Yet finances remained a worry. His elder brother took up a job at a neighboring hotel, to support the family and fund Romeo’s school fees. School, was perhaps a jail for a boy, whose heart bubbled with thoughts of haunting opposing defenders.

“Romeo, wasn’t that good at studies” says the fleet footed winger’s childhood friend, Benedict Crasto.

“He always managed to pass, but it was not as if he scored brilliant marks” Crasto adds.

If there was one period that Romeo loved in school, than it would certainly be the Physical Education period, wherein he got his chance to sprint and display his talent.

“I used to play with my friends from my school Regina Martyrum High School on the small school ground. Even though we had no proper infrastructure, we played with enthusiasm and enjoyed playing the sport.” said Romeo Fernandes himself, in an interview with TheHardTackle.

Romeo's playing ground.

Romeo’s playing ground.

His childhood friend, Benedict, remembers him as a jovial, naughty and a dynamic student. He says,”I remember Romeo always used to tease our P.E teacher, Miss Julie. He was naughty and used to crack jokes all the time”.

Benedict Crasto, remembers his old friend as tears burst out of his eye, framed within a nostalgic heart. He remembers this hilarious incident with Romeo and laughs at a ‘special’ one.

“We plucked polly mangoes from a tree next to our school. It was great fun. You should have seen Romeo grabbing them mangoes.”

His insatiable thirst for Polly-Mangoes didnai??i??t recede while his,thirst for ‘football’ grew and it was not a surprise to many, when Romeo was selected to represent his state, Goa – in class nine

“His inter-village games were a delight to watch. Romeo was a one- man army, he could score as many as he wanted.” adds Benedict

Gradually, the pacey winger started playing for Margao Sports Club in the 2010-11 Goa Football Association First Division League, and helped his side to win the tournament and gain promotion to the Professional League.

Apart from everything happening on field, off-‘ field problems, still existed. As it was, Romeo’s passion for football was only threatened by his family’s financial problems, which seemed to exist forever.

“Yes, finance was a problem, but it was never a deterrent to me from following my passion, which is playing football.” said Romeo.
“Even after all the financial troubles, my family has always been very supportive. They have always encouraged me to take up football and have helped me in every stage of my career,.” He adds.

After impressing with Margao SC, Romeo was then snapped up by Dempo and was a regular for Dempo Juniors for quite a while and represented the under-18, under-19 and under-20 teams before making his debut for the Panaji-based clubai??i??s senior side in 2011.

“It was a dream come true, when I signed for Dempo. Yes it was. I always wanted to play for Dempo Sports Club and when I got selected as a junior for the team, I was really happy and excited. I got a chance to play with some of the best players like Clifford Miranda and Rowilson Rodrigues, whom I have always idolized,.” said Romeo in an, excited manner.

The pacey winger’s ability to play on either flank, mixed with his eye to pick a pass, was often regarded highly among Dempo’s coaches. Success, on and off the field, came in plenty for Him., The guy with the golden smile, subsequently represented India at u-22 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers and scored on his debut against the UAE in a 1-1 draw in 2012.

Later, included in FC Goa’s squad for the inaugural Indian Super League tournament, Romeo Fernandes’s tale – seemed as if affected by magic from a distinct fairy.

On 22nd November 2014, replacing the injured Robert Pires, Romeo Fernandes started for FC Goa, with a mantle as heavy as his financial burdens – which, with time had deteriorated and extinguished into oblivion. Five minutes into the match, against FC Pune City,he scored his first goal of the tournament with a glancing header. A pivotal figure ever since, Romeo has cherished life under Zico. His three Man of the Match awards, two assists and three goals are an evidence of his creativity, goal scoring prowess and capability to play within a team. The quick fire winger , has been perhaps one of the talents brought into limelight by the Indian Super League.

A young Romeo

A young Romeo

“It has been an amazing experience so far. I never imagined that I would be able to play in such a big tournament and to play with such great players like Robert Pires and Andre Santos and train under such a great coach like Zico.” says Romeo

“It has truly been a dream come true for me and Iai??i??m enjoying every moment of it. It feels great. I am really enjoying my time with the team. Everybody on the team has been very supportive. They have helped me and have guided me at every step,.” he adds.

When asked about his ability to standout in matches, Romeo humbly replies “I just follow what coach Zico tells me to do.”

The springy winger’s ability to take on opposing defenders and beat them at will, whilst beating them by speed has been a cause for FC Goa’s resurgence, which now sees the Goans clashing swords against Atletico de Kolkata, in the semi-finals.

Romeo’s talents have not gone unnoticed and it is believed that the 22 year old has attracted suitors from Brazilian club, Atletico Parananse. Although He did not comment on the scenario, he would definitely love a Brazilian move, under the wings of Zico.

“It feels great. Everything has happened so fast. I would like to thank everybody and the whole team for supporting me. Especially, coach Zico who trusted me and let me play.”

“I never thought that I will get a chance to play against great players like Nicolas Anelka, David James and (Alessandro) Del Piero. It has been a great learning opportunity.”

His eyes are currently set on a target.

“My target is to win the first ISL cup for FC Goa and to join the Indian national team too”, says Romeo definitively.

From a child reeling against the torrid waves of finance, to arguably the best Indian player in the Indian Super League, Romeo Fernandesai??i?? journey has been amazing and extraordinary. He himself believes that things happened so fast, that it felt like a movie. Although the 22 year old has still a lot to learn and improvise, his story has acted as a source of inspiration for many Goans, who dream of playing professional football.

As one of his fans,puts it, ” He is live-wire. He is my inspiration. How many people can do what Romeo did? How many people have come from where he came and still stand strong? Not many.”, captures his essence, to near perfection.

Even after such stellar achievements, his down-to-earth humble behavior is what sets Romeo apart from the rest of the crop, and perhaps is the key to his success.

*****

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