Warming the bench is not a familiar feeling for Devendra Murgaonkar. For the past two seasons, the 22-year old had been up and about on the football field scoring goals for fun in the Goa Professional League.
The forward top-scored in the 2018-19 GPL season for Salgaocar FC with 20 goals. His goal-scoring form continued in the 2019-20 season as he racked up nine goals before the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed the league.
His efforts didn’t go unnoticed as FC Goa came knocking for his signature in June 2020.
From representing Goa in the Santosh Trophy to playing for FC Goa in the Indian Super League, the local lad has come a long way in a short time.
We caught up with Devendra to understand his life, his footballing journey and new beginnings at FC Goa.
THE AWAY END: Hi Devendra! How does it feel to become a part of FC Goa?
Devendra: It feels good to be a part of the team that plays in the top tier of Indian football and especially the club from your state.
THE AWAY END: Could you tell us something about yourself? Like your background and your family?
Devendra: I’m a young guy who likes to do ordinary stuff like any other young individual. I was born and brought up in Tailegao, Panjim. I’m very passionate about football and have been playing since I was very young. We are a four-member family, my mother and my two elder siblings.
THE AWAY END: What’s your earliest memory of kicking a ball? Who encouraged you or was your earliest influence?
Devendra: I started playing football at Auxilium High School when I was in Class VI. I played a lot of underage tournaments like Inter School, Subroto Cup and a lot of local tournaments.
Before that, it was for fun, but once I started playing for the school, there was no looking back. My brother helped and motivated me to take it up as a career.
THE AWAY END: Before joining the Salgaocar youth setup, could you tell us about the schools, colleges, teams you represented, and the tournaments you participated in? Additionally, any individual or team awards you picked up over the years?
Devendra: I started playing school-level tournaments and slowly progressed playing for my college team, Dempo College, and played a lot of tournaments. We also reached three finals in that period, one the university final, RFYS Goa leg final (twice).
THE AWAY END: You are a local boy. How have your friends and family reacted to your signing with the local ISL team?
Devendra: It’s been really beautiful. Because to play for FC Goa is something like the ultimate step for every Goan individual. The response and support has been overwhelming and I’d like to say thanks to each one of them.
THE AWAY END: You made your senior debut at Salgaocar FC. What does that club mean to you?
Devendra: Before moving to Salgaocar, I was still taking things lightly, but once I moved there, that’s when I started taking things seriously. I will always be thankful to Salgaocar for giving me the opportunity.
THE AWAY END: Let’s talk some more about your time at Salgaocar and its youth development. How did they influence your playing style?
Devendra: I joined the U-18 side of Salgaocar. Coach Anthony Pereira was our coach at that time. He was very keen on us to keep the ball and play with it. So we used to do a lot of training with the ball at our feet and try to play good football. And in one of those seasons, we also qualified for the I-League U-18s.
THE AWAY END: We at The Away End have been following your career in the Goa Pro League. Your debut was in the 2017-18 season, but it was the 2018/19 season when you scored plenty of goals. What do you think was the key factor that led to this rich vein of form?
Devendra: Honestly, both seasons, we had some incredible individual players playing for the team. Having said that, the 2018-19 season worked out really well personally for me because I was there in the box at the right time.
THE AWAY END: You seemed to have had a good partnership with Ronaldo Oliveira at Salgaocar. Could you tell us how that helped you as a player?
Devendra: Ronaldo is a great guy and has supported me over the course of the years. We developed a great partnership at Salgaocar that season and tried to make goals for each other during games. We worked hard and did well in that season.
THE AWAY END: Sanson Pereira has also joined FC Goa from Salgaocar. Tell us about your experience playing with him?
Devendra: Sanson is an amazing individual who’s been really consistent at the Goa Pro League level. I’m really happy to have him with me here as he’s very good with his crossing and his ability to go up and down the pitch.
THE AWAY END: How has the training with an ISL team been so far? How much of a difference do you find from your previous experiences?
Devendra: Obviously, the intensity and the methodology has been different from what it was at Salgaocar. It’s been really helpful and I’ve learned a lot of new things in the past couple of months. Also, I hope to gain more experience and some game time in the upcoming few months.
THE AWAY END: How do you describe your playing style?
Devendra: I’m an attack-minded player who likes to attack opponents and press them. Also, I like to take shots at goal at any given opportunity.
THE AWAY END: Who are your football heroes?
Devendra: I’ve been a huge fan of Cristiano Ronaldo since his days at Manchester United. Have continued following him since then.
THE AWAY END: And finally! You have played across Goa. What’s your favorite venue?
Devendra: Although I’ve played most of my games at the Duler Stadium in the GPL, but the one venue that stands out for me is the iconic Tilak Maidan in Vasco. I’ve had some decent games at the Tilak, hence I’d like to go with it.