Once a promising winger who possessed the pace to breeze through defences, Gabriel Fernades is somebody who watched his career fade into a premature conclusion due to recurring injuries.
The Goan footballer has donned the kits of top clubs such as East Bengal and Mumbai City FC. He has also represented almost every top-level Goan club during his decade-long career. However, the 32-year-old is currently working in England as a professional, and plays recreationally for Hellenic League side Shrivenham FC on the weekends.
Gabriel mentioned Mecca Rodriguez and Camilo Gonsalves as two coaches who helped him a lot during his formative years that he spent at the Sesa Football Academy and Dempo.
“I started playing football at Father Agnel High School. Then I joined Sesa Football Academy. Late coach Mecca Rodriguez helped me a lot and taught me so much during my formative years. After that, I joined Dempo and played for their U-14 and U-15 side under coach Camilo Gonsalves. I returned to Sesa, this time to play for their senior side. I then joined Sporting Clube de Goa but was unable to get a lot of chances here,” he told Goal.
The winger joined FC Goa ahead of the inaugural season of the Indian Super League (ISL). He spoke about how several coaches had a huge impact on getting his confidence level up.
“I had a good time at FC Goa and at Dempo. My confidence shot up at Mumbai FC because of coach Khalid Jamil. I also learnt a lot from coach Mike Snoei at Pune FC and earned my confidence,” he claimed.
“During a practice session at FC Goa, coach Zico once told me that he did not want me in the side if I was playing safe passes and not carrying the ball myself. He wanted me to dribble and move forwards. He told me that I could have even 100 unsuccessful dribbles in a game just as long as I tried. He was confident that at least one would bear fruit. In that practice game, I had one good dribble and got an assist. This gave me confidence.”
Muscular injuries are not easy to recover from, especially when the diet and recovery program is not optimum. Gabriel experienced this first-hand in the second half of his career, with injuries preventing him from capitalising on a good run of form.
“I started enjoying a good time there (Goa) but then I suffered from an injury. It went downhill ever since,” he explained.
“I was a good player, not great but I had the speed when I was young. I did not take care of my body in the right manner. I learnt about diet and recovery too late in my career. I was not able to say when my body needed more rest.
“Now, everything is very professional. Players have their food on time and get adequate rest. All these have a huge effect on your game. When you get less sleep and don’t take enough rest, you are likely to get injured. The muscles won’t have time to recover. This is the reason I suffered from several muscular injuries. I was seldom side-lined due to ankle and knee injuries, it was usually muscular.
“Players who rely on speed need to take good care of their muscles. You never know when you get injured and there are also chances of relapses. I decided to call it a day after suffering from a lot of muscular injuries. I was unable to run and dribble like I used to before.”
The then 29-year-old joined East Bengal in 2017 in hopes of rejuvenating his injury-ridden career. He also scored one goal for the club, in a 7-1 win over Chennai City FC. But muscular injuries in the lower body persisted and he decided to call it a day on his career in Indian football after the troubling times.
“I joined East Bengal to get my confidence back. But even there I suffered from injuries very frequently, especially to my calves and hamstrings,” he said.
“My last good season was at Mumbai City FC (2015). But I suffered from a hamstring injury and I could feel my level dropping ever since. I wanted a club that gave me minutes and help build my confidence. I believed East Bengal would be the right destination. But due to constant injuries, I was unable to get it.
“I performed well in the Calcutta Football League but met with an injury due to which they did not want to register me for the I-League.
Gabriel hailed Samad Abdul Sahad as one of the brightest talents of this generation and had great things to say about Anirudh Thapa’s passing. But among his contemporaries, the winger labelled former defender Mahesh Gawli as a special player.
“I think Mahesh Gawli is one of the most special players I have played with. Among the current youngsters, I think Sahal Abdul Samad is a good player. Anirudh Thapa also plays very well. Both these players can pass the ball very well,” he concluded.