It is often said that the price of excellence is discipline and the cost of mediocrity is a disappointment. For those who turn their setbacks into a comeback, destiny always has something exceptional in-store and such has been Manuel D’Souza’s story.

A young footballer from the capital city of Maharashtra, Mumbai, watched Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United scrapping an injury-time winner against Bayern Munich in 1999; an achievement which turned his life upside down.

D’Souza was all of 8 when he first had a football at his feet. An active and fabled kid, he was already representing his school, St Aloysius in the U-14 division before being selected by the Maharashtra team in U-16 and U-19. His industrious approach towards the sport, which he now considers as the love of his life, paid dividends as Mahindra United FC scouted him for their U-19 wing.

By the time he was 18, the esteemed club of his state, Mumbai FC was already at his door, and progressing from thereon was certainly a no-brainer. Staggering displays at a consistent degree was enough for his team to make D’Souza the captain of the junior team and promote him to the senior level only a year later. By the time he was 21, he found himself in Mumbai FC’s team sheet.

But making a name for himself was a daunting task, to say the least. D’Souza, in an exclusive chat with, explained the toils a budding footballer undergoes during the early stages.

“You know it’s very hard. Speaking from my personal experience, there’s no proper guidance. No one guides you about the diet or physical fitness. I had no guidance,” he told the website.

“We live in a country where everyone wants to experience, and how can you have that when you’re a fresher. So, you know it’s very hard because when you get a chance, you ought to take it. If you get one chance and you do not perform, you won’t get another opportunity. Those were the biggest fears because no one has faith in you and the pressure of delivering piles up.

“But that’s not the mentality abroad.”

While everything was going buttery smooth in Mumbai FC, little did he know a herculean setback was awaiting his way. While training with the team during an off-season camp, the then 24-year-old tore his meniscus which kept him out for as many as six months. We as layman tend to overlook the fact that even a slight injury can end an athlete’s career, and we’re pretty quick to draw conclusions over it. D’Souza explained what exactly a player goes through during the tenure.

“It is very difficult, especially in India, because no one respects you when you’re out with an injury.”

“You could be the best footballer today and tomorrow you get injured and it is all over for you. But then again, we don’t have so many facilities and luxuries which helps you in recovering.”

“You have to do everything on your own. No team does that for you. Very few teams do it, but when you’re out during the off-season, you need to pay from your own pocket, which is of course not that easy. Especially when you’re from a middle-class family, the pressure starts piling up.

“You start feeling sorry for yourself because you’re sitting at your home and start feeling stuff like what if I don’t play after this. That’s one tough time.

“But when you come back, you’ll have one of those days when you go all out and perform and forget about the injury, and that will be the breakthrough for you. But it takes time and is mentally very challenging.”

Once fit, that sleek impulse of reaching the highest level made D’Souza take arguably the most difficult decision of his career; a decision of leaving for Spain to have trials with Caudal Deportivo. Having belonged to a middle-class family, it was certainly a massive step to take, but he was indeed aided by firm support.

My parents have been super supportive and so has been my granny. I know it was difficult for them, but they did everything they could,” D’Souza shared.

“I went to Spain for a trial for two months, but getting a VISA turned out to be an issue. I however thoroughly enjoyed my experience.”

Making a trip back home was evident and now D’Souza had a huge decision to make. In 2016, he decided to switch the division to become a performance-enhancing coach.

“The idea came up because I myself didn’t get any as a player. There’s no sports conditioning here which enhances your game. You know an injury can end your career, and with this, I know I have a back-up plan.”

He was active as a player until 2018. “Last season I played for U Mumba” and he says he has a few offers in his sleeve, but there’s a lot to think about.

“With the Indian team, I always wish them luck, but we need to be more professional towards the sport. I believe the system, the players and the management need to be professional. You know the money should be utilized in the right place, but that’s just my opinion,” he said when quipped upon the current state of Indian football.

With the Indian Super League up and rolling, it was obvious to have a word around if the league is really serving its purpose? D’Souza didn’t hold back in his answer.

“That’s the biggest question right now. But as far as I’ve seen, it’s great marketing, but you know all those great players playing in the ISL have come from the I-League. Every player. Being a player myself, I know Mumbai FC used to promote five young players every year in the senior team. And I don’t see any ISL team promoting these many players in a year. But I hope they do because they have their own criteria and all. I’m only hoping that both ISL and I-League work together for a better good.”

There’s still a lot of football left in the former Mumbai FC midfielder, but he says he is more focused on the task at hand.

“I won’t mind playing if an opportunity comes, but I won’t be sad as well if nothing comes up. I’m happy to be where I’m. In the next five to six years, I want to be the best strength and conditioning trainer in the country. That’s the plan,” he said while signing off.

Feature image courtesy: Manuel D’Souza