Steven Dias left Mumbai for Goa as one of the most sought-after footballers in the country. He was arguably the best winger in India,his pin-point accuracy from dead-ball situations earned him the title of ‘desi Beckham’ and one of the fittest footballers in the country. Mumbai football was in relatively good health as well,although the first signs of the decline were visible with Mahindra United shutting shop. That two of the country’s biggest clubs East Bengal and Churchill Brothers were keen to sign him was a testimony to his popularity.
Three years later,the script has changed drastically. Dias returns to the city as a pale shadow of his past self,struggling even to make it to the probables of the national squad. Neither is he among the fittest players,owing to recurring injuries and Mumbai football is in a state of coma.
Yet,there is renewed hope and optimism for the 29-year-old to regain his lost touch as he embarks on a new journey of his career with the Mumbai Tigers. Bimal Ghosh signed the midfielder from the reigning I-League champions on a one-year contract,adding variety and experience to his squad. Dias,though,hopes it will prove to be a fresh lease of life for him and pave the way for him to return to the national squad. I have been struggling off late due to injuries and it marred the second half of last season. That’s the reason I was out of the reckoning from the national squad as well. Now,I hope to get more playing time and get some good performances under my belt which will help me to return to the Indian team, Dias said.
Dias left Mumbai in search of greener pastures after Mahindra was disbanded in 2010. He subsequently joined Churchill Brothers and enjoyed three successful seasons with them,which culminated with the title-winning 2012-13 season. That gave Dias a rare distinction of winning the national league with two different clubs,after he first won the tournament with Mahindra in 2005-06. Both titles are very special to me. We had probably the best team in the country when we won the title with Mahindra. The entire management,coaches and players had a professional mindset and that reflected on the pitch with us winning the title. Churchill was the same. It was the experience of Subhash Bhowmick and hard work of the players that won us the title, he said.
Dias talks about the homecoming passionately. Despite plying trade at India’s football capital for the last three years,he said he missed Mumbai. After all,this is where it all started for him a little more than a decade ago,when he first turned up for Ghosh’s Air India. Initally,it was tough in Goa. I felt a bit homesick but things got better with time. I always wanted to return to Mumbai though. So when he (Ghosh) offered me to play for Mumbai Tigers,it was one of the easiest decisions for me. Firstly,it gave me a chance to be back here and more importantly,I would be playing under Bimal. He was the one to give me the break and handed me my first professional contract, Dias said.
Tigers,owned by Dubai-based NRI Rajen Kilachand of the Dodsal Group,are one of the two teams who have got direct entry into the upcoming I-League season. Dias describes the team’s funcitoning as ‘similar to Mahindra’. And the fact that most of the players the club has signed have earlier turned out Mahindra and Air India excites Dias further. The pre-season will begin next week and Dias hopes Tigers’s debut season will be the one to remember. It’ll be a reunion sort of thing. I’ve known these players for a long time and played along side them. It’s a very good squad and we have set high standards for ourselves, he said. Though it will be crucial for us to play at Cooperage. We have seen how difficult it has been for Mumbai FC and Air India for the last two seasons and we really can’t afford to play our home matches in Pune. Hopefully,the ground will be ready in time for the start of I-League.
The start of the new I-League season is under a cloud,though,with the clubs and All India Football Federation’s commercial partners IMG-Reliance on the loggerheads. The 14 teams have staunchly opposed the new IPL-style league but Dias said it’ll be worth giving a shot. If they manage to get some big names to the country then
it’ll surely raise the profile of the sport. There’s no harm in trying that. I’ll give it a shot if I am offered a role. But it’s important for the clubs and IMGR to arrive at a conclusion that’s the best for all involved parties, he said.