Professionalism is a tricky word. The simplicity of its pronunciation and the frequency of use augers nonchalance and far outweighs its gravitas or the actual commitment it demands. It’s a rag doll that’s used prodigiously by writers and fans alike without fully being able to grab the magnitude of it all.
For Alexander Romario Jesuraj, it’s a word he has had to live by, without, by his own admission, knowing the full weightage it carries.
Professionalism as we have all learnt, in its true sense, if applied correctly and sensibly, bears fruit in every aspect. And reaping the benefits of it this season is the young 24-year-old from Dindigul, Tamil Nadu.
The past few years have been a huge learning experience for Romario as he went on to win two I-League titles in as many seasons. First, it was with his beloved Chennai City FC and then with Mohun Bagan.
“Winning the I-League was a dream, but I didn’t expect to win it at a such an early age, let alone back to back,” said Romario speaking of his journey to fcgoa.in.
The past two years have not only seen the dream of a young footballer come true, but also the becoming of a man who has matured both through triumphs and tribulations. His biggest, his professional attitude.
A beginning to write home
Romario made an instant impact in FC Goa colours. Brought in as a substitute in the season-opener against Bengaluru FC, the winger was given a simple task (well not so simple to be fair) – to bring the Gaurs back from 2 goals down against Bengaluru FC – the stingiest defence in last season’s competition and one against whom the Gaurs haven’t been able to muster much in recent times.
By the time the full-time whistle blew, Romario had helped the Gaurs do give a result that was much more comfortable to live with for FC Goa fans. A point was earned against a team that the Gaurs don’t particularly have a good record against and three points were just a whisker away.
Whilst the two goals from Igor Angulo and Brandon Fernandes’ play stoked both the imagination and headlines, the young winger strode off after a performance that certainly guaranteed a glance from everyone watching.
This, however, has been a long time coming.
A long time coming
Romario joined the Gaurs after a triumphant I-League campaign which saw the youngster lead Chennai City to their biggest-ever silverware of note.
“That was something beyond our wildest imagination,” remarked Romario recollecting the 2018/19 season of the I-League.
“Our dreams were modest because of the level of competition and infrastructure available to us before Chennai City weren’t always the best. However, as the season wore on, we started believing in ourselves.”
Romario’s joining in 2019 was swiftly followed by the Gaurs sending him out to Mohun Bagan on loan last season.
“I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel crestfallen when I learnt that I was being sent out on loan. FC Goa was a team that I had admired for many years and when their offer came, I didn’t think twice. They were my favourite team in the ISL because of the kind of football they played. You always want to be a part of that,” added Romario.
“Here I was thinking of taking the next step, but then to be sent away – the initial reaction is, of course, a little disappointing. However, I had faith in the team. I knew I was in their plans for the future and the three-year contract was proof enough. That though presented to me a chance to prove myself yet again and get more playing time.”
Romario took one sideways step to move two steps forward – being professional about it all.
The Kolkata sojourn and that word – professionalism
Mohun Bagan was a big challenge for me. Till then, I had always played in Tamil Nadu. That was me, stepping out of my comfort zone, going out and getting to experience the world, and that too at one of the biggest clubs in the country,” recalls Romario.
“I knew it would be some kind of ‘baptism by fire’. So I picked up the phone and spoke with my uncle, Soosairaj – who was my teammate at Chennai City and others. And when I was done with the call, I was ready for one of my biggest tests yet.”
Things didn’t quite go according to plan for Romario in the City of Joy, to begin with. Despite impressing Kibu Vicuna and the fans with his play in the Green and Maroon, Bagan failed to capture the imagination in the Calcutta Football League.
Fortunes though would change for the Mariners in the I-League. But for Romario, the road was bumpier than he had anticipated. The 24-year-old did well in his I-League debut for the Mariners as they cruised to a 4-0 win against TRAU FC, but an injury that followed forced him to stay on the sidelines for a major part of the remaining season.
The man from Dindigul then returned to the field in the last week of January 2020, notching up his only assist of the campaign during a 6-2 win against NEROCA FC. He played five more matches before the competition got suspended due to COVID-19.
“It was a tough time for me (when I was out). To be there at the games and yet not be able to contribute. Thankfully, I had some brilliant teammates – especially Fran Gonzalez and a coach that believed in me,” Romario said, looking back at his time in Kolkata.
“I think it was over that period I learnt the true meaning of the word ‘professional’. First I had to get ready to fight it out in a city where people didn’t speak my language and then with the injury. I had to take everything one day at a time and do all the right things. Yet there was so much doubt. The mental side is really crucial. I think now I know what that word means.”
Shining bright in Orange
Romario kept his professional attitude well into the off-season. And even with COVID-19 forcing everyone into seclusion, the winger carved out a routine to keep himself in shape and ready for the challenge of the Indian Super League.
With the team in transition and a new head coach in the form of Juan Ferrando in place, the youngster found the door to playing time in Orange of FC Goa up for grabs. And the youngster has risen up to the challenge – playing in three of the four games to open the season and finally getting his first start against Kerala. And crucially enough, he impressed everyone.
Romario’s direct approach on the right-wing has grooved in well with the rest of Juan Ferrando’s plan as the Gaurs look to create yet another potent mix going forward. And the early results certainly look promising.
“I think I am growing in every aspect of the game under coach Juan,” remarked Romario. “He is very detailed about what he wants and how he wants it. There is that element of trust when you are playing for him. He has really shown great confidence in each and every one of us and it just makes you give us that bit more.”
It has been professionalism on Romario’s part that has helped him cook up a little storm on the right-hand side of the Goa attack. At just 24, the man from Dindigul has truly grasped the weight behind that word. And to truly realise his potential, it’s that word again that he has to bank on.
For us, it’s belief rather than hope that his brightest days are yet to come. May those days be in Orange.