Alvarenga, a town of about 1,200 people in northern Portugal, pops up now and then on travel blogs as a place for beautiful hikes by the river and also offering some of the best meat in the region. A 90-minute drive from the well-known city of Porto, it is probably the last place where you would find an Indian midfielder in the starting lineup of the local football team.
But that is exactly where Sahil Tavora finds himself, at the 1,000-capacity Estadio Campo Reinaldo Noronha, turning out for GDSC Alvarenga, a club in the fourth tier of Portuguese football.
“It had always been my ambition to play in Europe someday so I knew I had to make a start somewhere and that too, probably in the lower division,” he said. “Having played the last two seasons in the Indian Super League, I felt it was the right time to challenge myself and start a new journey.”
Tavora, who hails from the Goan capital of Panaji, played for hometown club FC Goa and later Mumbai City FC, before setting off on this Iberian adventure. Game time, or the rather the lack of it, looks to have been an important factor in his decision having appeared in just 14 games across these two seasons in Indian football. For the moment, he stands vindicated, having started 16 out of 17 league games this season, albeit at right-back.
“Some of our full-backs were injured at the start of the season and the coach asked me to fill in for them. I think he was impressed because they’re fit again but I’m still playing there,” grinned Tavora.
The club, GDSC Alvarenga, is a relatively young one by European standards, having been founded in 1977. But it is still a very traditional club, according to Tavora, a people’s club if you will. And the 23-year-old's Goan roots seem to have made it easier for him to settle in, although he is still getting to grips with the weather.
“If I was from another state in India, it might have been harder adjusting in terms of food and culture,” he explained. “And the fact that I speak Portuguese also helps on and off the pitch, in making friends. I would definitely say it was a factor that made me say yes to this opportunity.
“But coming from Goa, the weather conditions are really different and it’s really cold here in the winter along with some rain as well,” he added.
After two seasons in the ISL, Tavora refused to be drawn into direct comparisons between the highest level of Indian football and the Portuguese 4th division but gave a little insight into his current playing environment.
“I would say it’s very different from the ISL. The ISL is a great league with fantastic coaches, fantastic players and the Portuguese 4th division definitely doesn’t have any of that glamour,” he said. “But it is a very competitive league. The pitches are smaller, you get less time on the ball and the game is quite physical.”
Having scored his first goal for the club in a 1-0 win over AA Avanca in October, the Panjim lad has set his sights on playing top flight football in Europe. His current contract runs till the end of the season and he plans to use the remainder of it as a springboard to get closer to his dreams. Alvarenga currently occupy 16th place in the 18-team league and have the leakiest defence at the midway point of the season.
Tavora is aware of the sacrifices needed to play overseas, but he hoped that his stint would encourage others to follow in his footsteps, while also citing the examples of national team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and skipper Sunil Chhetri, who played in Norway, and the US and Portugal respectively.
“It’s not easy being away from family and friends. It also takes you away from the comfort zone of the ISL or the I-League closer to home. But if you are willing to start from the bottom, it is the right thing for young Indian football players to do,” he said.
“We have two clear examples in Gurpreet and Sunil who both played abroad at some point in their career and they are arguably the top two players in India. Despite their mixed success, it shows that moving abroad does have its pros and I hope many more follow suit.”
Not many Indian football players get a chance to play in Europe, whichever level it may be. Those that do, need to grab it with both hands, or feet in this case, to show the others that it is not as improbable as it sounds. Sahil Tavora has done that and one can only hope that there will be many more.
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Updated Date: Jan 24, 2019 19:05:05 IST