WHEN STEPHEN CONSTANTINE started the national team preparatory camp in Kochi early last month to get a squad ready for the SAFF Championship, nearly all the usual faces he could depend upon were absent; busy playing in the ISL. Instead, he had with him a bunch of promising youngsters with little or no experience of playing for India, but there were some talented legs in there that could make it to the final roster and into a game. One of them was Rowlin Borges.
The 23 year old Sporting Clube de Goa defensive medio went unsold in the ISL 2015 domestic players' draft, much to Constantine's frustration,
"I was there at the draft. I kept telling them, pick him, pick him, but they didn't. Maybe they'll pick him now."
But the ISL franchises' usual ignorance about new talents in the country became a boon for Team India when Rowlin turned up at the camp free from the fatigue that his colleagues in the ISL are suffering from now. Soon he became a top choice for Constantine in the central midfield.
Looking back at the ISL disappointment, Rowlin was eager to brush it off,
"It's in the past, I can't dwell on that. Right now my mind is only on winning the SAFF Championship final... only then I can say I have done something for my country."
And looking at the way his career graph is going, there is no need to worry about ISL either. Soon after he got his international debut in the international friendly against Nepal in Pune, he has gotten regular chances to prove himself in India colours. In the SAFF Championship, he had an impactful performance in the match against Sri Lanka. Then against Nepal, he got his first international goal. Rowlin smiled as he remembered that moment,
"Playing for India is a big thing, but scoring a goal in the Nepal game was special. It was the best moment of the game for me... this is the best time of my life. I want to enjoy every second of it... so I don't want to concentrate on what I've lost but focus on what I've gained and can achieve playing for India."
With the daunting task of facing Afghanistan in the final ahead, one that even Constantine admitted as very difficult to win, Rowlin did not appear to be bothered by the prospect of it,
"Afghanistan are good but we are equally good. We'll play the way coach wants us to play."
The last sentence is a common theme among most young players in the Indian team: they all seem to have a complete faith in Constantine's plans and prefer to concentrate only on their own roles with the faith that their teammates will take care of the rest. Rowlin spoke fondly of Constantine, the man who has weaved this unity in the squad and who gave him the chance to play for India,
"I met coach Constantine for the first time in Delhi during the national team camp. He told me to do some extra work in the gym and raise my fitness levels. So from the first day he was motivating and guiding me so I'm very thankful to him for that... he is like a father figure in the team, always talking to us and motivating us. He's not that strict. But angry and all..." [laughs]
The other person Rowlin admitted looking up to in the team was captain Sunil Chhetri,
"Sunil comes to us younger players after every practice and tells us what we need to do... it feels great to be in the same team with him after growing up idolizing him as a player. It's a dream come true."
An ardent supporter of Real Madrid, Rowlin has admired players like Ronaldinho, Tony Croos and closer to home Climax Lawrence. But when he was asked who he considered as his idol, his thoughts immediately turned to his father,
"My dad, Francisco Borges has motivated me to go on playing football a lot... in Goa, football is the biggest sport. So I got a lot of help and support from friends and others when I was growing up and dreamed of pursuing a career as a professional footballer."
At the moment, Rowlin is happy to forget everything and concentrate on his duty in the one match against Afghanistan. He spoke about his role in the central midfield and the good understanding he cultivated with fellow players, especially Eugeneson Lyngdoh,
"I have a good understanding with Eugeneson in the central midfield. Whenever one of us moves up for attack the other comes down and covers the holding midfield area... it's easy for me to play with Eugeneson. He's the best player in India right now for me."
Admitting there was no better way to ring in the new year than winning the SAFF Cup, Rowlin further outlined the dreams he wanted to go after in 2016,
"I'd like to keep working hard and carry on the way I'm playing now and try to improve on that. And if I get an opportunity to play for a club overseas that'll be good."
And to catch the eyes of foreign clubs and agents there's no better platform than the SAFF Championship final, is there. The shy, polite youngster smiled and rose to go back to his teammates; his slender, 6 foot tall frame taking firm, certain steps forward.