The Unknown Hero

Few have heard the name Lenny Rodrigues,and even fewer would know that he is India’s Footballer of the Year this season.

Written by Shahid Judge | Published:May 28, 2013 2:39 am

What does one say after winning the Indian Footballer of the Year Award? Lenny Rodrigues kept it simple when he said,“It was a dream come true.” Unlike the well-known figures in Indian football,like the former national captain Baichung Bhutia and current captain Sunil Chhetri,the 26-year old Lenny Rodrigues has a name that not many have heard of.

Developing a passion for the game when his grandfather took him to watch football matches,the Verna-born Cortalim-based Rodrigues turned professional at the age of 17 when he played for Fransa-Pax Football Club,a club who’s dissolving led Rodrigues to train with Salgaocar FC for a year and a half. Though he was offered a contract to play in the senior team for his new club,Rodrigues turned it down to wait for an unpredictable dream move to Churchill Brothers,a club he supported as a boy,as an under-20 player. “It was the perfect move for me,” said Rodrigues,citing that even his father had supported the club.

Passing through Churchill Brothers’ youth system,the midfielder won the I-League the year he joined the club,in the 2008-09 season. “Though I was a young player,I had never had any problems getting into the first team,” he said. “I would always do my best to work hard and it paid off for me.” Before this season’s I-League win,Rodrigues also played a role in his teams wins at the Durand Cup and IFA Shield in 2009 and 2011.

Always putting the need of the team before his own,the midfielder,who had initially started playing as a forward,adopted a more defensive role to his play. “The club needed to me to play as a defensive midfielder since it worked well with our tactics,” explained Rodrigues,going further to state that he sometimes played as a full-fledged defender whenever the team needed him to fill in for an injured player.

It was this selfless attitude that helped Rodrigues earn a spot in the Indian national side,debuting against Oman in February,2012. He reveals that the years 2012 and 2013 have been the best in his career. “First I got selected to the national team,then we won the Nehru Cup for India,then we won the I-League,and now I got the best player award,” said an ecstatic Rodrigues. He mentions that the entire Churchill Brothers team was confident at the beginning of the season,and that the behaviour in the dressing room always suggested that team knew it would be the champion this year. “We were all confident,but we knew that we had to put in our best.”

Winning the Footballer of the Year Award was what made the I-League win sweeter for the midfielder. Though enjoying the limelight and mentioning that it felt great to be voted the best player in the country,Rodrigues made it clear that he did not deserve all the credit for the success. “I must thank the club’s coaching staff and my teammates for all the support,” he said. “But I will do my best next year to win at the game for my team,and maybe even win the award again.”

While his ambitions remain high,Rodrigues maintains that he will not leave the club until his contract expires in 2015. “I will have to see what offers I get,and from where I get them,” he said. “But it will definitely be hard to leave the club. Everyone loves me here and I love them too. We’re like one big family.”

At the moment,Rodrigues is still unsure about his future at the club,but one could be forgiven for assuming that if the midfielder does leave Churchill Brothers,he will join another Goa based club. Being a staunch Roman Catholic and an ardent family man,Rodrigues has never played for a club that was not Goa based. “It’s very easy to travel within Goa since it is very small,” he explained. “God,Mother Mary and my parents have always been my motivation and my best support system,so I always find it easy to go home after matches.” Talking about his family life,he lightly lamented that he was still a bachelor.

While he is unsure on which club he would like to join,he is certain that he will continue to work hard and excel at the game. With such determination and vigour,one would hope India’s best player can harness that skill onto the international level and help the country achieve unprecedented success.

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