Born in the West African country of Guinea-Bissau, Isma moved to Portugal at the age of three. He spent his formative years first at Porto-based Boavista FC following which he joined the youth setup at French club OGC Nice after getting selected through a trial organised by the club. He made his pro debut with the club in January 2011 in the French Ligue 1 against Bordeaux. Gonçalves stayed with Nice the following season after which he moved to Portuguese club Rio Ave FC.
Esmaël stayed at Rio Ave FC for four years between 2012 and 2015. He was loaned out to clubs in Scotland, Greece and Cyprus during this period. After leaving Rio Ave FC, Isma played club football once again in Scotland and Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Iran and more recently in Japan with second division side Matsumoto Yamaga FC – from where he joins Chennaiyin FC.
The journeyman won the Scottish Challenge Cup and Scottish League Cup during his stint with St. Mirren FC (2012-13) and won the Cyprus league with APOEL Nicosia in the 2013-14 season. He was also the top scorer in the Uzbekistan Super League in 2018 with Pakhtakor Tashkent FK.
Over the course of his career spanning almost a decade in leagues across the world, Isma has made 246 appearances in which he has managed to score 75 goals and assisted 13. He has played in everything from cup competitions in France to the UEFA Europa League, AFC Champions League and UEFA Champions League qualifiers. Isma has represented the Portuguese U-21 side and has also been capped once for the country of his birth – Guinea-Bissau.
It feels great to join Chennaiyin FC, a club that represents a city with rich culture and a wonderful fanbase.
My conversations with our Head Coach (Csaba László) have been great so far, and I truly believe in the project he has in mind for us.
I will work extremely hard to fulfil what my team and coaches expect from me. And hopefully deliver with as many goals and assists that help us win and achieve our objectivesEsmaël “Isma” Gonçalves