BY AUGUSTO RODRIGUES
Arnold Rodrigues was sent to Monte Guirim High School from Dar es Salaam as he spent most of his time playing with the ball instead of studying. Nick named Pele by his classmates, Arnold was picked up by Antonio Botelho to play for Panvel Sports Club and from where flowed a story of football that blinded his fans.
Goa has seen great football players but few of the stature of Arnold who left fans gasping with his brilliance – possession, dribbling, speed and ability to read spaces being his hallmarks in the late 70s and early 80s. Arnold spun his opponents round his team Salgaocar Sports Club until the year 1984.
In 1984, after having represented India on 17 occasions, Arnold was selected to be part of the national team to tour West Indies. Arnold did not return with the team and his fans, Goa and India lost one of its stars. It was the last seen of him as a player.
“On my return flight, I asked my coach permission to spend some time with my mother who was living in the UK. My mother hid my passport because she did not want me to return and that is how I got stuck there,” revealed Arnold as he walked through past times.
“There was nothing I could do. I was 30 and had reached the prime of my career but with my mom being adamant , making a career out of football slowly receded and I started work as an office assistant in the embassy of Oman in the UK,” recollected Arnold who still carries memories of his former play mates in Goa as trophies.
“I lived in the UK from 1984 and retired in 2021 as Chief Accountant of the embassy and in all those years I played in the Sunday league. I wanted to play but times did not allow me to so I lived my love for football by watching it on TV,” confessed Arnold who as a captain of Salgaocar won all the trophies and was awarded the best midfielder and player when Goa won the 1983-84 Santosh trophy against Punjab.
Arnold‘s tryst with victory was evident right from the year he joined Panvel Sports Club when the club won the Bandodkar Gold Trophy and his repertoire of mesmerising fans and leaving opponents clueless never left him.
“The surface you play on does not make a difference. It's passion and love for football that makes a difference. Football has become professional and most people play for money and with money there is no passion,” reasoned Arnold as he rattled his tryst with football with his colleagues of the past.
“The present generation has a different mentality. New technology is taking them away from the game or is robbing them of the essence of the love for football. Love cannot be explained, it has to be experienced and I think the youngsters today are missing this experience,” thinks Arnold as he tries to draw a line that divides football today from the past.
“Something is wrong with our system today. Love for football comes from the poor. Football is said to be a poor man’s game because it can be played anywhere. I think India is losing this connect with football. But I think the process is reversible,” admits Arnold who finished the Level 2 coaching course in the UK.
“Football is a big business. Psychology is a major tool used by the best coaches today. Clubs cannot afford to give their coaches time to start winning. Every game counts. Some players start in style and fade off later because they could be troubled by problems they faced during their child hood that coaches are not aware of,” said Arnold, explaining the role of coaches today in contrast to yesteryears.
“Football training for kids should start through futsal. One learns football by getting the maximum touches of the ball and this can be achieved by playing futsal and not regular football. A kid may get a touch of the ball every five minutes on a regular ground but will get over 200 touches in a futsal court in the same time,” explains Arnold.
“The three-touch style of football is hardly used. Football is more defensive today. If you don’t concede a goal you are still in the game, that is the thinking now and it is the approach of most coaches,” explains Arnold as his body twists as if he is on the pitch.
“As a youngster, I had a dream that I would one day be the best coach of Goa. Despite being away from the football scene since 1984, I still am connected to Goa with the football I enjoyed playing. I never realised my style of football was loved so much or that I was such a good player. I have retired now and if I get an opportunity, I will return to coach in Goa,” promises Arnold.
As the evening came to an end with Arnold, the mind flashed back to those days sitting on the wooden stands in the Bandodkar stadium in Campal, the Rajendra stadium in Margao and Tilak maidan in Vasco with the memory of a youngster making moves on the ground faster than the waves nearby. That was vintage Arnold Rodrigues – the boy who was sent from Dar es Salaam because he would not study, but now is waiting to teach football.