Mumbai: Mumbai City FC goalkeeper Kunal Sawant, a veteran of Mumbai football has a wealth of experience playing the sport he loves the most. He joined Mumbai City FC in 2018 after a two-year-stint with Kerala Blasters FC in the Indian Super League (ISL). Donning the jersey number 30, he is awaiting his turn to start for ‘The Islanders’.
Born in Mumbai, he started playing first division football in 2002 and was later selected to represent the legendary Mahindra United FC in their U-19 team. He finally got his big break in 2009, when Bimal Ghosh, one of the most revered coaches in India’s domestic football circuit, set in motion his professional league career with Air India FC in the I-League. Since then he has also played for Mumbai FC from 2012 to 2016 before joining the ISL.
In an exclusive interview, Kunal Sawant reveals his struggle with a major injury, the difference between I-League and ISL, MCFC’s coach Jorge Costa and more.
Q. You have played for Mumbai FC in the I-League and Mumbai City FC in the ISL. What is the difference between both the leagues?
A. There is a major difference between the two. In the ISL there is a professional approach and a good infrastructure. You won’t get nationalised things in the I-League. It is also not as professional because of their mentality towards the sportspersons. We are learning, it is a learning process. In I-League we don’t get that many facilities because of the infrastructure and the money factor as well.
Q. Mumbai City FC has not had a good start to their season this time around. How are the players and the coaches dealing with it?
A. It’s normal. We did it last year too. We lost a couple of games at the start of the season and then we were on a nine-game winning streak. So we have to cope up with it. We have also started our training a few days back. We will come back stronger.
Q. How is Jorge Costa as a coach?
A. He is a pretty good coach. We are learning a lot from him and he motivates us all the time. He doesn’t put any pressure on the players. He just tells us to go out and enjoy the game.
Q. Who is the one player in the squad that likes to hype things up before the game and keeps the atmosphere light?
A. It has to be Paulo Machado.
Q. What have the players learned through the ISL and the influx of foreign players in it?
A. Because of the ISL, we have learned to look after our diet. We look at the foreign players and we have learned to eat really well now. So you would see that none of the players on the table would eat any rubbish or junk food. That is the main thing we have learned from these foreign players. The diet part is really important in modern football as it helps with our recovery and also helps us performance-wise. This is one of the factors which has helped us a lot.
Q. In 2011, you had suffered a massive injury which threatened to destroy your career. How difficult was your recovery from your injury?
A. I did not play football for a year. It was really difficult because the doctors had said that it was going to be tough to make a comeback as a goalkeeper. They said I could play as an onfield player, but I have to thank Khalid Jamil (then-manager of Mumbai FC). He gave me a chance and I played five years for Mumbai FC.
Q. At present, we are hearing a lot about racism in European football, so is there racism prevalent in Indian football as well?
A. No, there is no racism in Indian football. At least, I haven’t heard of anything like that.
Q. What role do you think has ISL played in raising the level of popularity of football in a country like India?
A. It has helped a lot because earlier no one used to watch football as cricket was the only thing people used to watch. Now you can see that the stadiums are filled to the brim. When you play in the home stadium you can see that the support has risen. Even if it is not a weekend people come in to watch the game. Especially in a place like Bombay, people coming and supporting a team is very important and you can see how it’s growing. It is a very nice thing to see.
Q. What is your message for the young football fans?
A. Train hard. There is no other alternative to hard work. So train hard and eat well, that’s the important thing....