JUST A COUPLE OF years ago, Albino Gomes was one of the most sought-after keepers in the country.
After getting his feet wet in senior club football with Salgaocar and Mumbai City FC, his breakout season came when he joined Aizawl FC in 2016-17, getting regular game time for the first time.
Long story short, Aizawl FC chalked a fairytale run in the top division, becoming Champions against all the odds, staring down the best in the country. And Albino's efforts under the crossbar, making a number of crucial saves that had a critical effect on a championship race that was ultimately decided by a margin of 1 point.
Next season, at Delhi Dynamos, Gomes began the season as the number one custodian, starting every match. But things took a tragic turn when he injured his knee during a match against Jamshedpur FC. It ended his season.
Next season he featured infrequently for the team. But he was determined to get back to his old form and targeted the 2019-20 season for regaining his position in the newly minted Odisha FC.
But disaster struck again when during the pre-season training he picked up another injury that derailed his efforts and put him out of action again.
Back home and away from action as both ISL and I-League rolled on, Albino spoke to TFG about the battle against injury that he was fighting all over again,
"It's been 4 months since I began this process of getting back to playing shape. It's never easy, doing something like this. But so far it's worked out well and I still have 3 more months to go before I can be fit enough to play again."
His daily routine today includes a number of exercise and strengthening routines, which he carries out diligently. But every day as the matches play out on television, Albino can't help but feel terrible for having missed out on yet another season,
"I miss everything. Being out there on the pitch, getting ready for the match, the challenges of playing in a league where you have to constantly adopt to opponents with different styles... this season was mine. I know how hard we prepared for this, physically and tactically. It was a huge blow when I got injured during the pre-season itself. But what can one do in situations like this, you have to deal with whatever situation that has transpired."
Albino recalled a time when he was at the centre of the spotlight, during hos breakout season at Aizawl, basking in the title race for the first time in his career,
"When we got a draw against Bengaluru FC at home, that was the turning point, I'd say. For me that was the biggest game of the season, and I think for others as well... there were only 3 non-Mizo Indian players in the squad; me, Ashutosh Mehta and Jayesh Rane. So we hung out with the Mizo players a lot; which made it a very unique experience for us. Living in Aizawl, playing in front of that massive crowd and winning the trophy, taking the club from the 8th place to the top spot... it was a great season."
It was winning the league at Aizawl FC that made him a fan favourite nationwide and even led to demands from fans to get him called up to the national team camp. Albino was acutely aware of how the injuries changed his career path,
"Just when you feel like you're finally getting somewhere, it can put you back to square one. It's hard to deal with. But I have showed what I'm capable of and the injury won't change that. Right now the battle is to get back to form and play regularly for my club again and I'm focusing completely on that."
The support from his club during this healing process, Albino felt, was a great help to cope with it all,
"The support from my club has been really good, they've been with me from the start. I'm in Goa right now, but they keep in touch with me every now and then to stay updated on my recovery process. I really appreciate the way Odisha FC staff are supporting me through this ordeal."
Odisha FC have had a difficult start to their ISL journey, playing away from home in Pune and 4 points removed from the top four after 6 rounds. Albino believes the team can bounce back, and hopes he can make it back to the squad to help out during the tail end of the season.
Just like his club, Albino is figting a battle to regain his full potential, and find a way back to where he belongs.