With the restart of the domestic season weeks away, The Indian Express looks into the up-and-coming stars of tomorrow in ‘India’s New Hopes’.
Only a handful can claim to have made their second-ever senior appearance in a major domestic tournament’s final and even fewer have succeeded in making a mark amongst the elites — Saviour Gama is one of the few.
Up against Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League (ISL) final in 2019, the 23-year-old left-back announced himself to the FC Goa fraternity by pouring his heart out on the field for 80-odd minutes, pocketing a dangerous Udanta Singh for the entire night, playing for the badge on his chest.
“I wasn’t ready that night at all. The thought of appearing in an ISL final made me very scared to go on to the field in Mumbai,” Gama tells indianexpress.com over the phone. “After a sudden injury to our then captain Mandar [Rao Dessai], the coach — Sergio Lobera — brought me on in the dying minutes of the first half.”
“I didn’t even get time to warm up before the substitution, so after the half-time whistle, I prepared myself for the next 45 minutes on the sidelines.”
But unlike his quick feet, his progress since that unfortunate night in March 2019 has been slower than he would have liked.
Despite his eye-catching rise to fame in the final last year, Gama had to make the substitute bench his home last season — playing just 188 minutes, mostly as a second half substitute. But with Mandar joining Mumbai City FC, a whole new door has opened for the Chicalim-born defender.
“The past year has been quite eventful for me as I got more involved in the team, getting more minutes under my belt. Although they were from the bench, the experience is what matters the most. Now, my aim is to cement my place in the team under the new coach,” he says.
Possessing explosive pace, determination, and aggression playing on the front foot, Gama’s ascension through the ranks hasn’t been all that surprising. Even before him joining FC Goa in the summer of 2018, the wingback had made a name for himself in the state, playing local tournaments.
“For me, everything started right from my childhood… when I was around seven or eight. I started representing my school, Regina Mundi High School, in various age-group tournaments around 2010. Being a lefty, my PT teacher slotted me mostly as a left-back as there was no one else for the position,” recalls Gama, who helped his school finish third in the national-level Parikrama Cup (U18) in 2011.
“After playing for different local clubs, I signed for my first professional club in 2016 when coach Armando [Colaco] offered me an opportunity at FC Bardez. Then, I was loaned out to Sesa Football Academy (SFA). Soon after, I went for a trial for the FC Goa developmental squad in 2018 and I was selected.”
With the pre-season just weeks away, Gama can’t wait to get back into the mix of things and show the coach that he is capable of a first-team commitment.
“To be honest, I love attacking with the ball at my feet more than defending. I have been making use of my time during lockdown… training hard at home and keeping in my mind our emphasis on buildup play. I kept a close eye on the UEFA Champions League matches too, learning from the foreign players. Mostly, Jordi Alba though, who plays for my favourite team Barcelona,” Gama says.
“As for my extended time back in Chicalim, I have kept myself busy doing house chores, spending time in the gym, and doing cycling in and around the town. Playing FIFA 20 has also helped me pass my time.”
Even after a prolonged break from football, the 23-year-old remains undeterred at the inevitability of having to take on the best of the continent in the AFC Champions League.
“The toughness brings the best out of you, so I am excited to play in the AFC Champions League and make FC Goa fans and the entire country proud. Maybe, if I keep on playing well, the first national team call-up will also be in the horizon.”